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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Public Radio – Progress Slows for Food Safety Legislation

From KBIA Public Radio Missouri:

Time is running out for new food safety regulation legislation to receive a senate debate. If it becomes law, regulations in the Senate Food Safety Modernization Act would drastically affect the way food safety is monitored in the United States. The legislation would standardize regulation for imported food products and it would give the Food and Drug Administration more authority to impose rules on food producers and manufacturers. But, special interest groups like the Missouri Farm Bureau are working to keep the act out of the senate until they can make tweaks to support their industry, and with limited time left in this packed legislative session, Congress may be back to square one before the year’s end. Garret Hawkins is with the Missouri Farm Bureau. He says stricter rules for industrial farmers should mean a built-in safety net in case a false claim is made about the original source of food-borne pathogen outbreak.

“TOMATOES for example, where there was a scare but, it turned out to be another crop as the source of the problem. Producers lost tens of millions of dollars, and there wasn’t any thing there to recover the market losses. Trying to interject some common sense is one of the goals that we have.”

As food safety inspection stands right now, many consumers may be surprised at how infrequent food manufacturing entities are inspected. Bill Marler is a leading food poisoning attorney from Seattle. He says if a version of the Food Modernization Act were around before the two-thousand-nine Peanut Butter Corporation salmonella bacteria outbreak, it would have never happened—sparing almost six-hundred people from illness, and nine from death.

“I’m always shocked that peanut factory might inspected once every five or six years, or a juice manufacturing facility may get inspected you know—never.”

An unlikely source of adversarial action is from small food producers. Marler says this division of the food industry has the wrong impression. The federal government doesn’t care to regulate small growers who sell directly to consumers. But some small growers who occasionally sell to large food brokers feel they should be exempt from the proposed law. Marler cites the massive 2006 E. coli outbreak in packaged spinach as an example.

“Had that producer sold that product to a local farmer’s market, that person wouldn’t have had to register, because they’re selling it on a local basis. But when you sell that product into a broader stream of commerce, it has the potential of sickening hundreds and taking down an entire industry. Which is what this whole bill is designed to prevent.”

This month, President Obama released a statement listing his administration’s accomplishments in food safety, but he asks for more action, reminding legislators of the Food Modernization Act’s languishing status. In 2009, The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reported 1639 illnesses and seven deaths related to common food borne pathogens in Missouri.

  • Harry Hamil

    How exactly, Bill, would either S 510 or HR 2749 have stopped the salmonella outbreak at the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA)?
    As well documented in congressional hearings and the press, PCA was a case of fraud by the senior management and poor performance by the regulators.
    You and the supporters of this poorly conceived/poorly drafted legislation act like it will eliminates all foodborne illness when it targets the safest areas of our food system–produce & fruit agriculture and food facilities not under the FSIS.
    Your statement about the 2006 spinach outbreak is dissembling. That product came from industrial agriculture so it would never have been sold direct to the public at a farmers market.
    If the bill is designed to stop things like the 2006 spinach outbreak then why didn’t the preventive controls it mandates stop the Fresh Express recalls this year as Fresh Express is known for having state of the art preventive controls in place?
    Sadly for our legislators and the American people, the supporters of the S 510/HR 2749 approach to food safety regulation continue to misrepresent the bills and our opposition to them.
    As one of those small producers you say has the “wrong impression,” I challenge you to debate me publicly and set me straight about S 510. In fact, I’ll also be happy to debate any of your proxies, too.