A few bad peanuts

Today, we live in an information-rich society. We have technology today that our forefathers never dreamed we'd possess. We have satellites for instantaneous worldwide communications and GPS precision, biotechnology to mix and match genes of plants and animals to produce more nutritious food and the Large Hadron Collider nuclear particle accelerator to explore the beginnings of time, just to name a few. And yet, we seem to be boggled or tripped up by the small things like corn earworms, soybean rust, E. coli and Salmonella.

The industry has the capability of tracking agricultural products back to the fields they were grown in or to the ranch or feedlot where the livestock was raised. Food manufacturers regularly test their products and facilities to make sure there is no contamination. And yet, there remain a few bad apples in the business world that choose to ignore data. Case in point: the Peanut Corporation of America in Blakely, Ga.

It has now come to light that the company knew it had contaminated batches of peanut products and yet chose to continue operating and producing Salmonella-tainted products. What's even more despicable is when the company's CEO, Stewart Parnell, was dragged up on Capitol Hill to be questioned by a panel regarding his company's mistakes, he refused to answer any questions and pleaded the fifth amendment. His demeanor of indifference did little to soothe the outrage Americans feel about his company's choices.

What can ag retailers learn from this experience? There are several key takeaway messages. Even though regulations were in place to prevent such a situation from happening, there was a breakdown in the system. The Food and Drug Administration had no way of making the results of their inspections public. When the Georgia Agriculture Department found serious sanitation problems, the plant was not shut down. No one was notified outside of the company of these violations.

A breakdown in the regulations that ag retailers face could also happen and have happened. A well-known example is the Oklahoma City bombing.

Even though there are numerous regulations in place for ag retailers to face, there are loop holes and a few unscrupulous companies willing to take a chance to make more profit or save a buck. However, every retailer has the opportunity to do the right thing. Ag retailers must strive to exceed expectations by the uninformed public.

Americans want companies and their owners to do what is right for the public and not for corporate pocket books. Americans are a forgiving people, but not if that trust is blatantly disregarded.

As the U.S. economy struggles through the projected longest recessionary period since World War II, ag retailers, as well as other companies involved in agriculture, cannot afford to cut corners, ignore regulations and cheat customers.

Middle-class America is getting fed up with the corporate culture of greed and excess at the expense of their lives and livelihoods.

Peanut Corporation's business practices were unconscionable, unethical and exploitive as people were dying.

This is a clear example of how one bad seed brings shame upon the entire industry. This type of recall reduces the public's belief that U.S. farmers provide the safest supply of food in the world. Ag retailers are a key link in the food chain, and they too are only as strong as the weakest link.

There are always bad seeds in business. However, agriculture and ag retailers cannot afford to allow them to germinate.