Friday, February 13, 2009

Peanut company president refuses to answer questions from Congress

Peanut company president refuses to answer questions from Congress

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The owner of a peanut company pleaded the fifth amendment and refused to testify before Congress today after it was disclosed he urged workers to ship products tainted with salmonella.

While speaking before a House subcommittee hearing Stewart Parnell, owner of Peanut Corporation of America, said: "Mr Chairman and members of the committee, on advice of my counsel, I respectively decline to answer your questions based on the protections afforded me under the US Constitution."

Parnell was told to leave the hearing after repeating the statement several times. The House subcommittee's hearing was on the outbreak of salmonella that is reportedly linked to the deaths of nine people. Parnell's company has been blamed for causing the outbreak.

After Parnell's refusal to testify, panel members heard from a lab worker who said the company found salmonella at the plant in 2006.

Emails obtained by investigators revealed Parnell was concerned about the cost of testing for the bacteria was too high.

"We need to discuss this," he wrote in an email to the 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."

When the outbreak started in January, Parnell sent messages to the Food and Drug administration saying his workers "desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money".

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