News has broken that dirty dealings enabled the food industry to sell consumers substandard and outdated tomato products, including some that had mold contents above federal guidelines, at higher prices.
Frederick Scott Salyer, former owner of what once was one of the largest U.S. producers of tomato products – California-based SK Foods – pled guilty last week to price fixing and bribing major food companies to buy his company's low-quality products.
Associated Press reports:
Salyer was accused of being at the center of price-fixing ring that helped SK Foods capture 14 percent of the processed tomato market and rise to the second largest tomato processor in the state before investigators raided the company in 2008.
He also admitted that SK Foods routinely falsified lab test results for its tomato paste and that he ordered former employees to falsify information including the product's mold content, production date and whether it qualified as "organic," the U.S. attorney's office said.
It's alarming how much a company will deceive consumers to make a profit. In this case, substandard tomato products were put into major brands that are found in a significant number of U.S. homes. Buyers from Kraft, PepsiCo Inc.'s Frito-Lay, Safeway and B&G Foods have pled guilty to accepting bribes.
The AP story didn't say how investigators initially discovered the bribes or whether they were tipped off by industry whistleblowers. Adequate whistleblower protections for SK Food employees and other workers in the industry that could have exposed what was going on didn't exist until last year when the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act was enacted. By then, the company had already been raided and had filed for bankruptcy. If these legal safeguards protecting whistleblowers from retaliation had already been in place, perhaps it would have taken the investigators less than six years to dissect the corrupt dealings, and that much more substandard tomato products could have been taken off store shelves.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.