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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Melamine White Rabbit Candy Being Pulled From World Markets

World-wide, Food safety chiefs have ordered White Rabbit Creamy Candies to be taken off shelves amid fears they may be contaminated with poisonous plastic.   Dangerous levels of the melamine substance have been found in the White Rabbit Creamy Candies, sold in Asian and Chinese food stores, and now banned around the world.  The toxic plastic used in industry has been blamed for a health scare in China after powdered milk was contaminated causing the deaths of four infants and poisoning 50,000 more.

White Rabbit Creamy Candy is perhaps the best known brand of Chinese-made candy in China, and the only one to be marketed significantly outside of that country.  The product is manufactured in Shanghai by Shanghai Guan Sheng Yuan Food, Ltd. (‰∏äʵ∑Â܆ÁîüÂõ≠È£üÂìÅÊúâÈôêÂÖ¨Âè∏; Shàngh«éi GuƒÅnshƒìngyuán Shíp«ên Y«íuxiàn G≈çngsƒ´).

Lest we forget that food safety is not just a China problem, in the USA we are having two E. coli outbreaks going in in California and Michigan.  Also, Tracie Cone wrote in “Report: FDA lax in oversight of produce industry”

The Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to combat food-borne illness are hampered by infrequent inspections, not enough staff and the failure to implement a program devoted to the safety of fresh produce, according to congressional investigators. The Government Accountability Office draft report obtained Thursday by The Associated Press also said that only 1 percent of produce imported into the U.S. is inspected, and that the practice of mixing produce from several sources makes it hard to trace contamination.

A few weeks ago I spoke to the Monterey Herald on my view of the “leafy green” industry in “Ensuring food safety carries high price tag”

When it comes to food safety, there is no silver bullet, says Bill Marler, whose Seattle-based firm Marler Clark LLP specializes in representing victims of food safety illness against restaurants and food companies.

"Ultimately, it’s not going to be one particular thing that allows the mass-produced produce to be sold and marketed," Marler said. "It’ll be a combination: Where are the cows in relation to the field? Where are the flies? Ozone versus chlorine? Are we keeping things cold?"

For more quotes, see below:

Even he concedes that when it comes to fresh produce, food safety is something of a moving target: Not only are there multiple strains of E. coli and salmonella, for example, but new strains keep emerging. "The fact is, there’s never a guarantee in that business," said Marler. "But the fact that we haven’t had a major outbreak in two years is at least a sign that people are paying attention."

He worries that as economic pressures increase, some companies may cut corners on food safety measures. That, he said, is what he suspects has happened with ground beef: From 1993 to 2002, Marler said the majority of his cases involved E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef, but following a major outbreak in 2002, the beef industry took strident measures to prevent contaminations.

But grain prices started skyrocketing in late 2006, and producers are being pinched on all sides by rising costs and retail consolidation. In 2006, Marler said there were 186,000 pounds of meat recalled; since April 2007, ground beef recalls have reached 44 million pounds.

"A lot of small companies start scrimping on stuff they can scrimp on: They stop testing for E. coli as often, start shaving prices here and there, doing what they can. All of a sudden the outbreaks start happening again," he said. "I now have more E. coli cases in my office than I’ve ever had, and now most of them are tied back to hamburger again."

Early last year, leafy greens lawsuits made up most of his cases; these days, Marler said few notable outbreaks have been traced back to leafy greens, other than a small lettuce outbreak in Washington earlier this year. Marler said the produce industry needs to continually adapt.
"That’s what you’re going to do if you want to mass-produce produce for a population that’s bursting at the seams," he said. "It’s not the 1700s anymore; localvores and organics and all that kind of stuff sounds good on paper, but it won’t feed a world population of tens of billions of people."

Cost and responsibility should be spread along the food chain, said Marler, beginning with the farmers and handlers and extending to the big retailers, who these days require suppliers to sign contracts indemnifying them from losses stemming from the product. Those contracts, he said, get pushed further and further down the chain, until the smallest spoke in the wheel — the farmer — bears the liability.

"Those are the element least able to pay it," said Marler. "This should be a shared responsibility between the entire food chain, from the grower to the consumer."
Food production on a broad scale is inherently going to have a big price tag for ensuring its safety.

"That’s the reality of food production, the way we do it now," said Marler, "because we have to deal with a big population of people that want products in their grocery stores 24/7, 12 months a year, whether it comes from Peru or Salinas."

  • It is interesting your quote about feeding tens of billions of people. The world population stands around 6.6 billion, so we aren’t quite at TENS of billions of people. I wonder what kind of agronomic background you possess to say that eating organically and from local farmers cannot feed the world, even though all the science has shown it be more efficient and productive per unit of land. It might be best for you to stick to your profound knowledge of laws and regulations, rather than make statements that are best left to agronomists and agricultural statisticians. Plus, what does that quote have to do with food-safety??

  • Richard J

    I used to love White Rabbit. I would get them from my Punky Boy Asian buddies who always had a stash of the little White Rabbits. Alas I had to give them up when after the millionth time the candy got stuck in my teeth, I actually lost a tooth filling.