Plant closure isn’t peanuts to Portales

Two months is a long time to watch millions of pounds of a crop sit in barns, to be out of a job in a tough economy, to have a business shuttered with no clue as to when it can re-open.

But that's the position the federal government has put Portales farmers and workers in who depend on the Sunland Inc. peanut processing plant.

If that doesn't stick to the roof of your mouth …

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration indefinitely suspended Sunland Inc.'s registration to operate because of what it said were repeated safety violations. The plant had voluntarily recalled hundreds of products and closed its processing and peanut butter plants in late September and early October after a salmonella outbreak that sickened 41 people in 20 states was linked to its Valencia peanuts.

This is the first time the FDA has used its 2011 authority to shut down food operations without a court hearing. And while there can be no question that problems need to be fixed and safety standards met before the plant can reopen, the FDA seems much more interested in crowing over its newfound powers than in working to help the plant get back to safe operations.

It seems to have no concern over the impact of the closure on the area and its $60 million peanut industry.

So just as peanut butter goes with jelly, a plant closure for safety violations should be accompanied by a clear path to rectify them. Instead, Sunland is closed indefinitely while it appeals the suspension.

Clamping down on Sunland may feed FDA egos. But it won't feed the 20,000 people who live in Portales and whose livelihoods are tied in some manner to peanuts.

Sunland says it has tried to work with the FDA, has been unable to get a hearing date and is now appealing to the state's congressional delegation and other agricultural groups for help in getting the plant reopened. The FDA won't comment on an ongoing investigation.

But it should shell out the information needed to get Sunland Inc. safely back in business.

— Albuquerque Journal

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