Business briefs: Peanut exec won't pay salmonella victims

Business briefs: Peanut exec won't pay salmonella victims

April 8th, 2016 by Staff and Wire Reports in Business Around the Region
High radiation in steamline triggers alert at Browns Ferry

The Tennessee Valley Authority activated the lowest of four emergency notifications Wednesday when high radiation levels were detected in a main steamline at the newest reactor at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant in Alabama.

TVA detected the high radiation condition around 3:35 p.m., central daylight time, on Wednesday. But the notice of an unusual event was cleared almost immediately. TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said Thursday that the high radiation levels were quickly lowered to acceptable levels and there was no risk of radiation exposure or other safety problems to the public or plant workers.

TVA lowered the power in the Unit 3 reactor, which was reactivated after a fuel reloading two weeks ago, to about 92 percent power while workers checked for potential problems.

The notice of an unusual event is the lowest of the four emergency notices to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which regulates America's commercial nuclear power plants. TVA

Browns Ferry, TVA's biggest and oldest nuclear plant located near Athens, Ala. , is now operating all three reactors at full power, Hopson said.

FILE - This Feb. 20, 2015 file photo, photo shows an arrangement of peanuts in New York. Two new studies bolster evidence that feeding babies peanuts or other allergy-inducing foods is more likely to protect them than to cause problems. One study, a follow-up to landmark research published last year, suggests that the early prevention strategy leads to persistent, long-lasting results in children at risk for food allergies. It found that allergy protection lasted at least through age 5 and didn't wane even when kids stopped eating peanut-containing foods for a year. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)


Photo by The Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Peanut exec won't pay salmonella victims

SAVANNAH, Ga. — A former peanut company executive serving a 28-year prison sentence won't have to pay money to victims of a deadly salmonella outbreak linked to his Georgia plant, a federal judge ruled.

Former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell and three co-defendants were spared by the judge's order Wednesday from paying restitution to corporate customers and the families of hundreds who got sick after eating tainted peanut butter in 2008 and 2009. The outbreak was blamed for nine deaths and 714 illnesses.

Convicted of knowingly shipping tainted peanut butter and faking results of lab tests for salmonella, Parnell received the harshest criminal penalty ever for a U.S. producer in a food-borne illness case when he was sentenced to prison in September. His brother, food broker Michael Parnell, got 20 years in prison.

But the question of whether the Parnell brothers and two former managers of Peanut Corporation's plant in rural Blakely, Georgia, should compensate victims for financial losses dragged the case out for six more months.

Ultimately, U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands ruled victim loss estimates provided by prosecutors were invalid because they were based on civil claims and included costs — such as attorney fees — that can't be recovered in a criminal case.

Parnell's attorney, Tom Bondurant, said the same financial loss estimates the judge deemed too flawed for calculating restitution had played a big role in determining Parnell's long prison sentence.

"In the big scheme of things, there seems to be a disconnect where you can find loss and send somebody to jail for the rest of their life but not order restitution," Bondurant said.

The judge also noted an insurance policy held by Peanut Corporation paid out more than $12 million to victims. And he concluded that ordering the Parnell brothers to pay money "would ultimately be for naught or close-to-naught" given their lengthy prison sentences. Peanut Corporation declared bankruptcy and shut down after the outbreak.

Mortgage rates lowest since February 2015

Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates slid this week to their lowest level since February 2015, luring prospective purchasers during the spring home-buying season.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.59 percent from 3.71 percent last week. The benchmark rate was far below the 3.66 percent level it marked a year ago.

The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages declined to 2.88 percent from 2.98 percent last week.

A recent speech by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen reaffirmed the Fed's plans to move slowly in raising the interest rates it controls. That prospect has tamped down mortgage rates.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond stood at 1.76 percent Wednesday, down from 1.83 percent a week earlier.

Consumer borrowing grows at slow pace

U.S. consumers borrowed at a modest pace in February for the second month in a row, evidence of ongoing caution that has kept a lid on spending this year.

Borrowing rose at a 5.8 percent annual rate, the Federal Reserve said Thursday, just above January's 5 percent pace. January's climb was the smallest in more than two years. The use of revolving credit — mostly credit cards — rose just 3.7 percent after slipping in January. Total outstanding credit increased $17.2 billion to $3.57 trillion.

Americans barely increased their spending in February for the third straight month. More hiring and cheaper gas may have also reduced some consumers' need for credit cards.

Economists are closely watching consumer behavior, as their spending has emerged as a key source of growth this year. Weak overseas economies have weighed on U.S. exports, widening the trade deficit. Business investment has been lackluster and U.S. manufacturing is struggling in the face of a stronger dollar, which has made U.S. goods more expensive overseas.

Yet so far this year, consumers have been reluctant to ramp up spending. That has prompted many economists to lower their estimates for growth in the first three months of this year to an annual rate of 1 percent or below. That would follow a tepid 1.4 percent growth rate in the final three months of last year.