WASHINGTON, JULY 26, 2008 : The Food and Drug Administration agreed yesterday to pay $12 million to settle a class action suit filed against it by Tomatoes et al, for wrongly naming the group a “fruit of interest” in a recent salmonella poisoning outbreak now focused on Mexican-grown jalapeno peppers. The amount is more than double the $5.85 million recently awarded to biological weapons specialist Steven Hatfill by the Justice Department after he agreed to drop a lawsuit he filed after John Ashcroft, then attorney general, named him a "person of interest" in the investigation of the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks.
The agreement, in which the government did not admit wrongdoing and claimed it was "just doing its job," put a quick end to a situation that threatened to spin quickly out of control after a meeting of the Heirloom Tomato Executive Bushel voted to authorize a strike that would have kept all varieties -- from roma to Beefmaster to Pink Ggirl, Better Boy, and Jet Star -- from returning to stores and canneries. “After what happened, our reputation was so impugned that we decided we’d rather die on the vine than be part of any salad or marinara sauce,” said spokesman Bob the Tomato, star of the Veggie Tales movie series. “Even now, I still can’t get my best friend Larry (the Cucumber) to return my calls."
Still, irreparable widespread damage to reputations has occurred. For example, one of the renowned “Killer Tomatoes” complained just last week that United Artists had suddenly squashed and put into turnaround The Killer Tomatoes Bite Back, the troupe’s long-anticipated comeback. "Such bad timing. We really needed the jobs. Some of us haven’t worked since our last sequel, Return of the Killer Tomatoes, in 1988. This was our shot at a new generation. Now, we're just fu**in' pureed.”
Attorney Bert Fieldhand, who has long (and unsuccessfully) argued that tomatoes are a vegetable, not a fruit, claimed his long-time clients' reputations had been thoroughly vindicated. "I don't want to throw rotten tomatoes, but I don't think anyone would believe that the FDA would . . . pay that kind of money unless they felt there was significant exposure at trial," he said.
The salmonella outbreak has thus far affected more than 1500 people across the country, and has caused a handful of deaths. The Minutemen, a private militia established to prevent Mexicans from illegally crossing our southern border, has agreed to add Jalapenos to its prevent list.
Bob The Tomato is now back at work, but, he says, "The way the other vegetables look at me . . . it’s creepy. Things will never be the same."
(Thanks to Carrie Johnson of the Boston Globe for the framework.)