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Friday, December 9, 2016

Here’s hoping that Stewart Parnell goes to prison.

The former president of the now-bankrupt Peanut Corp. of America, Parnell ran a filthy Georgia processing plant contaminated with salmonella that injured more than 600 people in a 2008-2009 outbreak, killing nine. Last month, federal prosecutors charged Parnell and three others with criminal offenses, claiming the executives intentionally shipped out contaminated peanut products.

It’s about time that white-collar criminals whose actions result in death or horrible injuries have to do the perp walk, just like the leeches who sell narcotics to kids. Former workers and federal inspectors say the plant, located in the small southeast Georgia town of Blakely, was a breeding ground for bacteria — with a leaky roof, dirty floors, mold on the ceiling and walls, and rats and roaches everywhere.

Still, it’s not enough to know that Parnell is finally going before the bar of justice. I also want a vigorous and assertive government that will help ensure that plants like Parnell’s Blakely facility won’t be free to operate in the future.

With President Obama battling Republicans over government spending, it’s easy to forget the important functions that federal agencies carry on every day. The Washington commentariat has concluded the agreement — known as “sequestration” — that produced shortsighted budget cuts hasn’t caused any harm to the majority of Americans, an indication, in that view, that Obama oversold the consequences of the cuts.

Is that true? The fact is we may never know how much harm will be done by those cuts. We don’t know how many children will miss their vaccinations, how many Head Start teachers will be laid off, or how many food inspections will be skipped.

The line between cause and effect is especially hard to draw in the work of those federal agencies whose jobs are aimed at prevention. The inspectors at the Food and Drug Administration have done their jobs well when you don’t hear of a food-borne illness or a faulty medical product. That sort of work is essential, but its results are hard to measure. And it never attracts public attention of the sort that ensures big budgets.