Peanut Butter Processor Knowingly Endangers Consumers -- America Needs a Strong Food Safety System

03/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Americans watched over the past week as peanut butter products on grocery store shelves nationwide were recalled due to salmonella contamination. And now we have learned that the peanut processor responsible for the recent salmonella outbreak, Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), knowingly sent contaminated peanut butter products out to companies that manufacture cookies, crackers and institutional peanut butter used in schools. At least 12 times in 2007 and 2008, PCA deliberately endangered our families by knowingly putting contaminated peanut products into the chain of commerce. So far the recent salmonella outbreak is said to have sickened more than 500 people and killed at least eight.

And at a time when our economy is already in crisis the financial burden on manufacturers and peanut farmers is still untold. Manufacturers have had to recall thousands of dollars worth of products and companies who weren't involved in the recall are nevertheless affected because frightened Americans will think twice before buying anything with peanut butter. It will take months, perhaps years, to know the full impact on farmers and industry growers.

From tomatoes, to spinach, lettuce, beef, pet food, and now peanut butter, there have been far too many food-supply contaminations. It is clear increased funding and authority is needed at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Recently Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) introduced important legislation, The Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act, which is a necessary first step to ensure the safety of the nation's food and other products and restore confidence in their safety. The Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act adds registration fees for processing plants to provide increased funding for food safety, increases inspections of manufacturing facilities to every four years, increases penalties for noncompliance and increases food-testing for imported products among other safety provisions. The legislation also gives the FDA increased authority to recall products believed to pose a risk to consumers.

Regulations are a necessary first step, but when government regulations fail the legal system provides another important check and balance. The revelation the peanut manufacturer responsible for the salmonella outbreak knowingly endangered consumers by selling a product they knew was harmful shows why FDA enforcement is not enough. The civil justice system often brings safety problems to the public's attention and is one of the most important incentives for companies to make their products safer. The Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act protects the right of consumers to hold wrongdoers accountable for the food they sell and profit from which goes hand-in-hand with the increased inspections and penalties provided by this legislation.