A House Energy and Commerce Investigations subcommittee released new pictures and documents it says show the food industry's self-policing policies failed to catch unsanitary conditions at the peanut processing plant responsible for a nationwide salmonella outbreak. The incident sickened almost 700 people and is being blamed for at least nine deaths, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
Dozens of companies that bought peanut paste and other ingredients from Peanut Corp., which is under criminal investigation in connection with the outbreak, failed to pick up the problems because they relied on safety audits by inspectors hired by Peanut Corp. "There is an obvious and inherent conflict of interest when an auditor works for the same supplier it is evaluating," said Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of the subcommittee, calling it a "cozy relationship," the AP reported.
Thursday's hearing was held as calls for major changes in the U.S. food safety system grew louder, from consumer groups, politicians, and even the head of Kellogg Co. He called for an overhaul of policing policies after the cereal maker lost $70 million in the salmonella outbreak when it had to recall millions of products, the AP reported. David Mackay, Kellogg's chief executive, said companies should be required to have written safety plans and submit to annual inspections.
Last week, President Barack Obama launched a special review of food safety programs, and lawmakers have introduced legislation to take safety oversight away from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and create a new agency with stronger powers and more funding, the AP reported.