Once again the Bush-stacked and -stymied Food and Drug Administration is asleep on the job in its duty to protect the people from poisoned foods and drugs. Salmonella-tainted peanut butter produced by Georgia-based Peanut Corporation of America has killed eight people and sickened 19,000, a majority of them children, in 43 states.

It has forced one of the most sweeping recalls of tainted food in recent history. The peanut butter was distributed in jars, in crackers, snack bars labeled “organic” and in ready-made meals and TV dinners. FEMA is in the midst of recalling millions of emergency food rations containing the toxic peanut butter.

In case anyone thinks this is an isolated incident, The New York Times obtained documents proving that a peanut-processing plant owned by ConAgra that was only 70 miles from the PCA plant also produced and distributed salmonella-tainted peanut butter. It caused a similar nationwide outbreak of salmonella poisoning in 2007. The Times reports that in 2004, lab tests at the ConAgra facility came up positive for salmonella. ConAgra refused to release the lab results until the FDA agreed not to make the data public, claiming the information was “proprietary.”

Three years later, the 2007 salmonella outbreak forced the FDA to finally end the coverup and release the data.

Peanut Corp. of America, ConAgra and Bush administration officials should be charged with manslaughter and reckless indifference to human safety and health.

This situation calls for quick action by the Obama administration to strengthen oversight and inspection of the nation’s food supply. Congress should quickly create a new federal agency with the single mission of insuring safe foods, with far more inspectors and the power to shut down unsafe food operations.

Obama should also pursue a farm and food policy that helps break the stranglehold of ConAgra, Monsanto, Cargill, ADM and other agribusiness giants.

Obama is right to push for 21st century sustainable energy, public education and health care. We also need a 21st century system of sustainable agriculture that produces safe, fresh, nutritious food. That means encouraging production of food on independent and family farms, locally grown, and with a minimum of factory processing.

Safe and healthy food is a national security issue, which shouldn’t be left to the capitalist imperative to maximize profits over people’s health.

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