After nine deaths and 600 illnesses, the Peanut Corporation of America is finally out of business after successfully and, seemingly, purposefully poisoning the USA peanut butter supply with salmonella.


The reason the peanut butter poisoning is so insidious is precisely because the poisoned nuts were scraped off the floor and sold with a “Monkey See, Monkey Do” attitude to protect the bottom line.

Stewart Parnell’s own email messages turned the screw into his guilty thumbs:

The House panel released e-mails obtained by its investigators showing Parnell ordered products identified with salmonella to be shipped and quoting his complaints that tests discovering the contaminated food were “costing us huge $$$$$.”
In mid-January, after the national outbreak was tied to his company, Parnell told Food and Drug Administration officials that he and his company “desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money.”

In a separate message to his employees, Parnell insisted that the outbreak did not start at his plant, calling that a misunderstanding by the media and public health officials. “No salmonella has been found anywhere else in our products, or in our plants, or in any unopened containers of our product,” he said in a Jan. 12 e-mail. In another exchange, Parnell complained to a worker after they notified him that salmonella had been found in more products. “I go thru this about once a week,” he wrote in a June 2008 e-mail. “I will hold my breath ………. again.”

Last year, when a final lab test found salmonella, Parnell expressed concern about the cost and delays in moving his products. “We need to discuss this,” he wrote in an Oct. 6 e-mail to Sammy Lightsey, his plant manager. “The time lapse, beside the cost is costing us huge $$$$$ and causing obviously a huge lapse in time from the time we pick up peanuts until the time we can invoice.”

The Arts can warn us against men like Parnell, but will we heed the warning and proactively protect the Public Health of our communities?  

In 1947, Arthur Miller wrote a play called “All My Sons” — a revival starring John Lithgow and Katie Holmes just finished a Broad way run — and Miller warned us then about the perils of commerce over morality. 

Miller’s play was based on a true story.  In the following plot synopsis, substitute “airplane parts” with “peanuts” and you’re in the crunch of 2009 from World War II:

All My Sons tells the story of Joe Keller, a successful, middle-aged, self-made man who has done a terrible and tragic thing. During World War II, rushing to meet an order from the Army, he knowingly shipped defective airplane parts that later caused the planes to crash. Twenty-one soldiers were killed.  Keller framed his business partner for this crime and engineered his own exoneration; now, his son is to marry his former partner’s daughter and the deceit is revisited, and his lie of a life unravels.

Arthur Miller isn’t the only playwright siren singing an alarm.

In 1883, Henrik Ibsen wrote the play — “An Enemy of the People” — and it, too, was based on a true story.  Substitute “drainage system” with “peanuts” and you’re in the swim of 2009 from a Norwegian spa:

The town in which the play is set has built a huge bathing complex that is crucial to the town’s economy. Dr. Stockmann has just discovered that the baths’ drainage system is seriously contaminated [by the runoff from a local tannery]. He alerts several members of the community, including Hovstad and Aslaksen, and receives generous support and thanks for making his discovery in time to save the town. The next morning, however, his brother, who is also the town’s mayor, tells him that he must retract his statements, for the necessary repairs would be too expensive; additionally, the mayor is not convinced by Dr. Stockmann’s findings.

Will we ever learn the lessons of the past when commerce and Public Health clash — or will the business interest always take the first bite of the apple while the rest of the community starves?

Should men like peanut buster Stewart Parnell be imprisoned for their wanton disregard for Public Health — or is this just “business as usual” when it comes to American commerce in the marketplace of ideas and dead bodies?

6 Comments

  1. It is amazing, Katha, that the world has yet to learn these uneasy lessons about Public Health and the sanctity of the stuff we put in our mouths! Not even mass killings will make the warning secure. People are required to give their lives in the duty of serving the community when businesses fail to follow the standard of human decency.