Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Peanuts and Profits

(Via Socialistworker.org) The recent salmonella outbreak caused by contaminated peanut products, it turns out, was "let loose" on the population in a naked attempt to keep profits flowing for the Peanut Corporation of America. The recent outbreak, which resulted in one of the largest food recalls in history, was responsible for 600 illnesses and 9 deaths across the US.

Stewart Parnell, the owner of the company, has a history of evading health inspections and knowingly sending contaminated food products out into the market. According to the socialistworker.org piece:
Parnell complained in e-mails that salmonella tests were costing him business, ordered a plant manager to ship products once identified as contaminated, and pleaded with health inspectors to let his employees "turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money."
Other internal memos sent by Parnell complain that Salmonella testing and inspections are "costing the company huge $$$$". Apparently, Parnell discontinued relations with one inspecting company because they found "too many cases" of Salmonella. Other reports indicate that "inspectors found roaches, mold and a leaking roof" at the Blakely, GA plant now believed to be the source of the contaminations.

What's astonishing is that Parnell is not facing any legal ramifications for this. He didn't face any charges or fines the last 3 times his company was involved in contaminating food products (toxic mold in some cases, dangerous pesticides in others). In fact, he "was recommended to serve on the U.S. Agriculture Department's Peanut Standards Board." That's right.

Recently he has refused to testify in Congressional hearings about the outbreak, opting to take the Fifth. As of the 13th, his company has filed for Bankruptcy (chapter 7). It is unclear whether this will have an effect on the ability of civil lawsuits to extract compensation from the company for knowingly selling contaminated peanut products.

Meanwhile, foodbanks are throwing out tons of products containing peanut butter -at a time when foodbanks are becoming more crucial to enabling people facing hard times to eat. If this world was just, Parnell and his cronies would be forced to eat all of the food that these foodbanks are being forced to throw away while at the same time being required to compensate these foodbanks so that the necessary purchases can be made in order to replace their stock.

This whole situation is atrocious. This is a case of naked capitalist greed costing people their lives and maligning the heatlh of hurdreds more. Not to mention, this crisis will have calamitous effects for the (likely) thousands of workers employed by the company. At present, the company is liquidating all of its assets in order to pay off creditors, but is there any serious problem with the machinery and the production of peanut products such that the factory should no longer exist? The whole "everything is instrumental to producing profits" game is so wasteful: if there is machinery there that can be rehabbed and fixed, if there is a need for peanut products, if the workers there want to keep their jobs... why shut the factory down? Of course, the reason (within the explanatory logic of capitalist production) is clear... but it seems so ridiculous in many ways that a productive effort like this should just collapse, leaving creditors and investors taken care of while everyone else is shit out of luck.

Clearly, the answer must be that the 'free market' would have efficiently prohibited such events from happening, and Big Government has contaminated the mind of the heroic entrepreneur (Parnell) such that he acted against the imaginary hand of His Holiness Milton Friedman and consequently did bad things that simply betray the triumphant ethos of capitalism.

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