As one reporter I spoke to last week noted:
The law firm of Marler and Clark has represented victims from every major food borne illness since 1993. Marler has fought for the rights of victims of food-borne illnesses for more than 16 years now and says in that time he has seen no laws tightened to protect consumers.
"What some people don’t understand is the ripple effect this kind of thing can cause," Marler said. "Some 50-60 people here lose their jobs, the corporation goes bankrupt, there are other companies that go bankrupt due to the cost of the product recall, more people lose their jobs . . . . You add it up and that is some major money being lost, not to mention the human cost of people getting sick and dying."
"It really is a failure of not only this company, but also of government oversight,” said Bill Marler. “It’s a failure of the peanut association to pay attention to all of its members and a failure on the part of consumers to hold their government accountable."
"125 people are out of a job, that the peanut industry is losing half a billion dollars from just one company when the last time the FDA was here was in 2001. I think most tax payers would think spending more on the FDA could have saved a lot of problems, 9 people wouldn’t have died, 700 people wouldn’t have been sickened and 125 people wouldn’t be out of a job," Marler says.
"It’s interesting that the president seems to be interested, he talked about his daughter eating peanut butter and hopefully that will loosen up money."
I was able to tour the Peanut Corporation of America plants in Blakely, Georgia and Plainview, Texas this week. I saw mice, cockroaches, and leaking roofs – all bad signs in a food production plant. But those weren’t the only bad signs. I also saw two small towns, already struggling in this economy, that have lost steady incomes for the more than 100 people who used to work at the plants; incomes their families – and the towns – depended on. I saw seemingly endless fields lying fallow that should be full of peanuts, crops that would have supported unknown numbers of farmers and other businesses all along the line of distribution, and the communities they live in.
It’s my job to focus on the people who were sickened in this outbreak – the 691 (confirmed) ill, the 160 hospitalized, and the nine families who lost loved ones. But the victims of this outbreak are everywhere. Certainly in these two towns, which have lost valuable jobs, perhaps forever. But with more than 4,800 products recalled, millions of dollars in costs all have the same ripple-out effect – the businesses suffer, then the employees suffer, then the communities suffer. We all feel the effects. And. It. Has. To. Stop.
It’s ridiculous to point at the Peanut Corporation of America and say, “it was all their fault”, and go back to business as usual. Oh, PCA carries plenty of blame; I’ll be the first to say. They ran a shoddy factory and made inexcusable decisions which caused incalculable loss and suffering. And they will pay for it. But they are not alone in this. Bad actors can only flourish in a broken system, where the loopholes are truck-sized and regulation thin. We went through this two years ago with the Peter Pan/Great Value peanut butter outbreak, and we all thought it would never happen again at that scale – and we were wrong. It will happen again – and again – unless industry, government, and business interests grow collective backbones and put an end to it.