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Civil Eats – Dear Mr. President and Secretary Vilsack Calling for Real Food Safety Reform: Bill Marler for FSIS

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Just when America thought it was safe to go back into the grocery store, another food outbreak wakes us up to the fact that there is something seriously wrong with our food safety system. This time it’s Nestle Toll House cookie dough with E. coli, a treat that nearly every kid in America reaches for a few times a month during the summer. This is yet another reminder why it’s important to get the new food safety legislation, currently winding its way through Congress, right.

Last week a new food safety bill passed unanimously out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and opinions of it vary widely. Known as H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, the bill is being hailed as everything from as “the most sweeping reform of the food safety system in nearly 50 years” or the “totalitarian control of the food supply” depending on what you read.

Civil Eats reported on the intricacies of the legislation and its supporters.

As the debate rages on about how the U.S. will create a new food safety system, with all of the attention focused on FDA’s failure to assure the safety of the food it regulates, a very quiet controversy is brewing at the USDA over the fact that the agency has yet to name an Under Secretary for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

So far, the two leading candidates for the job, both with close ties to the food industry, have been knocked off track due to the efforts of a small collection of food safety advocates and a few advocacy groups who believe that food safety is not something that you should create a “Team of Rivals” around.

After watching the new administration’s efforts to select political appointees that conform to the plot-line of a popular nonfiction book, it’s time to remind them why they won the election. Last year when Americans went to the polls in record numbers, they voted for change and the hope of reform.

What is becoming more evident every day is that while Republicans reward their base, Democrats kick theirs to the curb.

As one food safety expert who has been leading the charge for food safety reform in Washington for over twenty years said recently, “It’s funny. When Republicans win the election I have to fight the meat industry and when Democrats win I have to fight the meat industry. When is somebody going to stand up for the American consumer?”

We couldn’t agree more.

If the Obama Administration is Serious About Food Safety – We Need a Reformer

Every year in the U.S. an estimated 76 million people get sick with foodborne illnesses and 5,000 die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One person who knows this fact better than almost anybody else in this country, is food safety lawyer Bill Marler.

Marler recently came to the public’s attention with his generous offer to pay for author Michael Pollan’s visit to Washington State University, after his book had been removed from the freshmen reading program. What many may not know is that he’s been known as a leading advocate for food safety for nearly two decades.

Marler first leaped to national prominence as the lead attorney in the famous 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak. Since that time, Marler has led the charge in protecting the rights of consumers against unsafe practices of major corporations. While dedicated to a high standard of food safety protocols, Marler is also pragmatic about the real economic need for food safety.

Poor food safety practices also have a major negative impact on the bottom line of business, costing U.S. companies more than $6.9 billion each year, which Marler believes could be better spent to keep America’s food supply truly safe.

Despite the food industry’s long contempt for personal injury attorneys, Marler could end up being their dream pick for the FSIS spot if they were willing to allow the motivated attorney to oversee the much needed change in food safety policies at the USDA.

Known as a fair but fierce opponent, Marler draws as much criticism from the industrial meat crowd as he does from proponents of local agriculture, with strong stances on the need for inspection and a concern on the growing interest in raw milk.

Why select Marler as the head of the FSIS? Because he’s a champion of citizen’s rights to safe food and he knows the system better than anyone. He’s also willing to balance the concerns of the meat industry and local foods at the same time.

If the Obama Administration is serious about reforming America’s food safety system, there really is only one choice – Bill Marler for FSIS. Now’s the time.

David Murphy is the founder and director of Food Democracy Now!, a sixth generation Iowan, and a writer and advocate for sustainable agriculture.