Death by Peanut Butter

In order to make the reading a little easier, I split my blog into two parts. First, there is a review of the article I found, followed by an analysis and connection to the prior class discussion and article…

Article Review:

As many of you know probably already know, there has recently been an outbreak of salmonella poisoning stemming from contaminated peanut butter from a manufacturer in Georgia.  The contamination has sparked what some experts project to be one of the largest recalls of food in US history. Because peanut butter and paste are used to make so many foods, the number of recalled items and the total bulk is enormous. To date, 500 people have been sickened, including four in Arkansas, and as many as 8 deaths may be linked to the outbreak.  The Justice Department and the FDA’s office of criminal investigation are attempting to investigate the manufacturer, Peanut Corp. of America, whose plant is located in Georgia. In recent investigations of the peanut manufacturing facilities, FDA inspectors found a roof leaking into the food area. In addition, pests and metal fragments were also found. The FDA claims Peanut Corp. found salmonella in products, but shipped them anyway, after a retest found no salmonella. In light of the recent outbreak, President Barrack Obama has ordered a complete review of the Food and Drug Administration because of the  “instances over the last several years” in which “the FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to catch.” In an interview with Matt Lauer, President Obama stated,

“We’re gonna be doing a complete review of FDA operations. At bare minimum, we should be able to count on our government keeping our kids safe when they eat peanut butter… that’s what
Sasha eats for– for lunch– probably three times a week. And, you know, I don’t wanna have to worry about whether she’s gonna get sick as a consequence to having– having her lunch.”(video interview)

Analysis:

During our discussion in class concerning the article about Tod Murphy, I presented the question, “do you think Murphy’s business stratagy over the long run is feasible?”. At first I thought absolutely not, but after a little class debate, I found myself believing that maybe Murphy is onto something. However, after watching the interview and statements by President Obama, my mood has once again become pesimistic. The president has vowed to investigate the entire FDA, and possibly reinvent how the United States test food for contamination. It is safe to say that new, and possibly tighter regulations will be placed on distributors to ensure their products are safe. So why does this make me pessimistic towards Murphey’s business plan? I’ll answer my question with another question. How is Murphey going to ensure his food, bought from local farms, is in fact safe? For example, Murphey can not ensure the pigs he bought from his 15 year old Andrew Putnam were not contaminated with some disease (Mad pig disease!). Hypotheticly, if someone becomes ill when consuming Murphey’s products, and can prove in court that it was in fact Murphey’s locally grow food that made them sick, a possibly huge lawsuit could ensue. Corperations such as Peanut Corp. of America is able to absorb the lawsuits because of their strong financial prowess, but small time businessmen like Murphey would be absolutely crushed by such a lawsuit. Now I realize that a lot of the blame could be attributed to the suppliers, but Murphey did buy and serve the food himself, thus would mkae him partially liable. I guess I have a pessamistic attitude towards small businesses now a days because of the huge manufacturing firms backed by the government, so I was hoping that maybe someone in the class could shed some needed light on my dark outlook.

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8 Responses

  1. At the same time, is there really a need for strict government regulation of private farmers? In my limited experience, it seems many if not most local farmers are not out for a quick profit but rather to create a sustainable and fruitful living. They seem to take pride in their work. Also, because of the local nature of the business, a most customers will grow to know and trust their supplier.

  2. As much as I would like to shed some light on your outlook, I have to agree with you. Small, privately-owned companies lack the financial strength and ability to protect themselves. If one thing was to go wrong with Murphy’s suppliers, his whole restaurant would be out of commission. On the other hand, small problems mean small solutions. Large corporations such as the Peanut Corp supply all over the country and therefore when one product goes bad, there are millions to recall. In Murphy’s case, it is a lot easier to detect and resolve the source of the problem. It is because of this that I agree with the comment above. Small farmers don’t really need thew strict government regulation that large corporations do. I was disgusted by the summary of the peanut recall — a leak in the roof and pieces of metal and pests?! I didn’t even realize peanut butter was being recalled until I walked into the bison one day and saw signs up saying they would not be selling peanut products (shows how much of a bubble we really live in). Basically, small farmers have the advantage of small problems, but if they are forced to be heavily government regulated then they lack the financial strength to survive.

  3. I think the only way that the small farms are going to ‘health conscious’ is with government help, because they will need better technology and that’s expensive, on the other hand…most of these farmers will eat what they produce,so they are going to be careful on how it is handled

  4. Small suppliers -> many suppliers. Many suppliers -> harder to manager

    However, many suppliers -> spread out dependencies

    And again, as Geoff said, small suppliers are looking to establish long-term clientele, it would be in their best interest to provide the best service and products.

    It is not necessarily true that a small scale operation cannot protect itself, besides what if the farm subsidies were used as incentives/support to help farmers meet government regulatory requirements?

  5. I agree with the idea that small farms are more likely to produce high quality foods because there is an element of pride involved, but there are certain things that are just inevitably out of the farmer’s control. While I’m sure there are some aspects small farming that are easy to micro-manage, how much control does a farmer really have over the cleanliness of the stream that his cows are drinking from? It’s actually frightening how many ways there are to transport diseases, and I think the small farmers are at a disadvantage for their lack of technological resource to INSURE quality. As much as I’d like to think that these small guys stand a chance against the huge corporation, it just seems like there are some obstacles that would require more resources than the final outcome is worth if they were to be fully resolved.

  6. I’m glad you brought up your pessimistic thoughts because we should always consider downside risk. But I hope you are wrong!

    Somewhere I have seen references to how small scale production has less contamination.

    One aspect of government involvement is the rules. They could write rules MORE favorable to small scale production. For example, what if they published the number of food poisonings from that manufacturer in last five years on every item sold? Can you imagine how that would shape consumer choice? Would you want to know if your peanut butter had killed someone in last five years?

  7. I was just reading news and Peanut Corp. of America has filed for bankruptcy following this episode. A second plant that was run by the Corporation, in Texas, was also shut down after tests for salmonella came back positive.

    http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2009-02-13-peanut-corp-bankruptcy_N.htm

  8. I am in agreement with your analysis. Pricing is going to be very important with the economy doing so badly. Murphey is going to have trouble keeping prices low when regulations are getting stricter and people are losing income. Additionally, people do not want to go out at all for food, and would rather cook at home. This poses a threat for Murphey.

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