02.05.09

Leahy Says Vermont Mother's Ordeal In Peanut-Salmonella Case Shows Need For ‘Jail Time’ In Protecting Public From Tainted Food

WASHINGTON – A South Burlington woman, invited by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Thursday told the Senate Agriculture Committee about the hurdles she faced getting the facts about the salmonella poisoning that threatened her son’s life.  Gabrielle Meunier’s 7-year-old-son Christopher fell ill last fall in a case connected to the peanut-salmonella outbreak associated with products from the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). 

After Leahy called for an investigation into possible criminal violations by PCA, the Department of Justice last week announced an inquiry into whether PCA knowingly provided tainted peanut products to food producers.  Leahy again Thursday urged a thorough criminal investigation into PCA, as well as greater accountability for food manufacturers who distribute contaminated food.

Leahy, the most senior member of the Agriculture Committee, said fines alone can fall short in protecting the public from harmful products.  “If they think ‘well if we get caught, maybe something will get recalled or maybe we’ll get a fine; it’s just the cost of doing business.’  In this case, the cost was people who lost their lives.  I’d like to see some people go to jail.”

Meunier praised the work of the staff at the Vermont Children’s Hospital.  She described the many roadblocks she encountered while trying to stay informed about her son’s illness and the outbreak.  She suggested several improvements to the process of identifying and addressing food-borne illnesses, based on her personal experience with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC).

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