Peanut Corp. president keeps quiet amidst accusations that he put profits before safety

After e-mails released in today’s U.S. Congressional oversight and investigation subcommittee hearing revealed the sentiments of Peanut Corp. of America’s president, Stewart Parnell, toward the company’s microbial testing, the Associated Press reported,

Parnell sat stiffly, his hands folded in his lap at the witness table, as Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., held up a clear jar of his company’s products wrapped in crime scene tape and asked him if he would be willing to eat the food.

"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 U.S. Constitution," Parnell said.

After repeating the statement several times, he was dismissed from the hearing.

Sammy Lightsey, his plant manager also invoked his right not to testify when he appeared alongside Parnell before the subcommittee.

As the hearing opened this morning, the Atlanta-Journal-Constitution reported,

Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, admonished company executives sitting in the crowd, saying they could invoke their Fifth Amendment rights not to testify, but that doesn’t protect them from justice if they’re found guilty of wrongdoing.

Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, was quoted as saying, “This company cared more about its financial bottom line than it did about the safety of its customers.”

According to the AP, the president of one company that tested products for Peanut Corp. spoke to the House panel.

Charles Deibel, president of Deibel Laboratories Inc., said his company was among those that tested Peanut Corp. of America’s products and notified the Georgia plant that salmonella was found in some of its peanut stock.

"It is not unusual for Deibel Labs or other food testing laboratories to find that samples clients submit do test positive for salmonella and other pathogens, nor is it unusual that clients request that samples be retested," Deibel said. "What is virtually unheard of is for an entity to disregard those results and place potentially contaminated products into the stream of commerce."