updated 2/17/2009 3:25:49 PM ET 2009-02-17T20:25:49

Georgia lawmakers are trying to revive the peanut’s good name.

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The lunch box staple didn’t used to be such a tough sell, but Georgia’s vital crop has taken a whipping since a nationwide salmonella outbreak tied to peanut products from a Blakely, Ga., plant, has sickened more than 600 people and been linked to nine deaths.

Lawmakers in the state that is the nation’s leading peanut producer are guzzling down bags of peanuts, organizing peanut butter events and offering the legumes boiled, shelled and just about any other way to all who are willing to eat them.

Tables lined with jars of peanut butter, cookies, candies, apples and peanut butter, bags of boiled peanuts — “the caviar of the South” — and buckets of shelled peanuts greeted the hundreds who wandered by the first floor of the state Capitol Tuesday.

More than 2,000 peanut products have been recalled, and consumers are shying away from those that haven’t been pulled from the shelves. Although the company that runs the plant, Peanut Corp. of America, handles no more than 2.5 percent of all peanuts processed, sales of jarred peanut butter plummeted 22 percent nationwide for the four weeks ending Jan. 24.

“This is to convince the public — the best way we know how — that peanuts are safe,” said Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin, licking the remnants of a peanut snack off his lips. “There are some skeptics out there that don’t know this is the result of one bad player.”

Georgia takes special stock in its favored crop. Its most famous politician, Jimmy Carter, was a peanut farmer, and the industry employs 50,000 people and packs an estimated economic impact of $2.5 billion — more than double that of the next leading state, Texas.

“We’ve got to stand behind our products,” said state Sen. John Bulloch, a farmer himself who is backing stricter food testing requirements. “We want consumers to know we’re trying to do what we can to put in checks and balances to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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