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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Looking for a “Food Jesus” – It is not going to happen.

We always expect some politician to solve our food safety problems.  Or if we simply better organize the agency’s’ problems, they will fade away.  It will not happen. 

Andy Martin of the New York Times and I talked about his article "Looking to Obama to Bring Logic to Food Safety"  I think he wanted to write yet another article about moving towards a single food safety agency.  As he wrote:

For reasons that defy logic, the nation’s food safety functions are split. The Agriculture Department inspects about 20 percent of the food supply (meat and poultry), and the Food and Drug Administration is responsible for almost everything else. And yet the Agriculture Department receives a majority of federal food safety dollars.

The division of labor creates internal squabbling and some bizarre situations. Frozen cheese pizzas are inspected by the F.D.A., pepperoni pizzas by the Agriculture Department. Fresh eggs are under the jurisdiction of the F.D.A.; egg products go to Agriculture.

That this makes no sense is no secret. It’s why Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, have raised again and again the idea of creating a single food agency — so far, though, to no avail.

In 1999, the Government Accountability Office (then called the General Accounting Office) issued a report called “U.S. Needs a Single Agency to Administer a Unified, Risk-Based Inspection System.”

Or, likely a better frist step – as I said:

Bill Marler, a personal-injury lawyer in Seattle who represents clients in food poisoning cases, says the first thing the Obama administration should do is invest in better surveillance for food-borne illness, like a system that Minnesota uses. “If you are able to figure out food-borne illnesses quicker,” Mr. Marler said, “you are able to prevent people from getting sick and save lives.”

From my view, you need food safety successes – where consumers, producers, suppliers and retailers are committed to safe, nutritious, sustainable and regional food.  But, before we get there we need to be able to track bacterial and viral illnesses (intentionally or negligently caused).  If we catch outbreaks early, and learn how they happened, we can make our food supply safer.  And, that is a very good idea indeed.

  • I hate to derive you of litigation business, but an effective tracking system will undoubtedly require some immunity to encourage whistleblowers at the individual and corporate level. Otherwise, the individual protective instinct will overwhelm what is good for the collective.