Recent Salmonella Outbreak Taking its Toll on Area Peanut Farmers

by Victor Lopez
NewsWest 9

GAINES COUNTY--Supplying companies like Smucker's and M&M Mars, peanut farmers in Gaines County have been working overtime.

Although the source of the salmonella outbreak has been traced to the manufacturer, Peanut Corporation of America, area farmers are trying to get the word out that what they are growing and shipping out of Gaines County is totally safe.  The peanuts are shipped whole and shelled.  Where they end up is totally up to whoever buys them.

Otis Johnson has been a peanut farmer for over 12 years.  He stands behind his product 100%, "Peanuts are safe.  We deliver a safe product."

In his line of work, Johnson says it's pretty much a matter of blind faith.   That involves everybody you deal with, "First of all, you've got to trust the shellers and the manufacturers you send peanuts to.  Once we sell our peanuts, at the buying point we have no control where they go or what they're used for."

Because of the salmonella, consumers are being warned to avoid peanut butter and peanut products all together.   According to Shelly Nutt, Executive Director of the Texas Peanut Producers Board, there's no need for that.  "If it's been involved in a recall, such as the Austin brand peanut crackers or the Famous Amos peanut butter cookies, they have already been pulled off the shelves.  If you're at a store and you're seeing peanut butter and peanut products, they're totally safe," Nutt said.

But salmonella isn't the only reason sales have slipped in the peanut industry.   According to Johnson, good crops across the country in 2008 means there's more out there.  And going into 2009, the price just isn't right, "We've come off a year where we already have a surplus of peanuts and we're looking at, probably, a down price anyway.  This is probably going to escalate that and put more peanuts in the supply line, that are not being used."

Peanut farmers are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the USDA.  It's because of that fact, the Texas Peanut Producers Board encourages everyone to continue to buy and eat peanut butter.

"We produce the safest crop in the entire world.  You can't find a safer food product than what we grow in the United States, because we are so highly regulated," Nutt said.