Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Officials defend plant inspectors

Georgia's top agriculture officials on Tuesday defended the state's inspection process at a legislative hearing called to address the salmonella outbreak traced to a Georgia peanut processing plant.

The process came under fire after a state inspector found only minor problems when she probed the Blakely plant in October for less than two hours. Less than three months later, federal agents found roaches, mold, a leaking roof and other problems.

Terry Coleman, Georgia's deputy agriculture commissioner, told House lawmakers that no amount of regulation will deter people who are intent on violating state laws.

"If a person intends to break the rules, unless you have somebody standing
over that person from the time they get to work from the time they leave, there
is no way to prevent that," Mr. Coleman said. "And in this particular case we
believe that somebody in the plant intended to break the rules or break the
laws. All the inspections we could muster couldn't prevent that."

Still, lawmakers responded to the outbreak by passing legislation that would make Georgia the first state to require that food makers swiftly alert state inspectors if their internal tests show their products are tainted. That proposal is awaiting Gov. Sonny Perdue's signature.

Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin said such legislation would have "been impossible to pass" before the outbreak.

The remarks came at a meeting of the House Consumer Protection Investigation and Oversight Subcommittee, whose members seemed to agree with Mr. Coleman's assessment.

"We had a bad apple there," said state Rep. Ellis Black, D-Valdosta. "And no amount of inspections is going to prevent a disaster."

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