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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Should grocery stores be responsible for the food they sell?

cantaloupeIsle.jpgSome of my comments below have sparked a debate that needs to be had. Should grocery stores be responsible for the food they sell? If the manufacturer is from outside the United States or bankrupt, should the wholesaler and retailer be responsible for injuries caused by the product sold? Or, should the customer be without a remedy?

It is a policy debate in my mind that is well settled. Someone who profits from the sale of a product, must be responsible to the customer if that product causes harm. The alternative is that the victim is left to personally absorb the cost or it is borne by taxpayers. How is that fair?

Bloomberg – Wal-Mart Listeria Suit Prompts Costco Checks

Fallout from the outbreak that’s killed 29 Americans is broadening to other major retailers that sold the tainted produce and is spurring a national debate on the role groceries and stores should play in making the food- supply chain safe.

“Retailers are going to be left holding the bag,” said Bill Marler, a Seattle-based lawyer who’s filed at least eight lawsuits targeting both the Colorado farm, its distributor and Wal-Mart. “The grocery stores and retailers who sold the product — from big-box stores to road-side stands — are going to have to step in and fill the gap.”

Victims of the listeria outbreak may file claims seeking more than $100 million, Marler said in a telephone interview. A U.S. House committee is investigating the outbreak and may hold hearings.

Denver Post – Listeria outbreak victims go beyond farm to target grocers, auditors

Some food-safety advocates say it’s time for grocers to take more responsibility than that, especially with foods that cause repeated damage. Hamburger, unpasteurized dairy, spinach, cantaloupes and other products have often been at the heart of dangerous outbreaks.

“At some point, the grocery store has to make a legal or moral decision: ‘We’re not responsible for the food we sold these people,’ ” Marler said.

What are your thoughts?

  • Bill Anderson

    So I have a question for you Bill. You state:
    “Someone who profits from the sale of a product, must be responsible to the customer if that product causes harm.”
    Now what if we lived in a society where people do not profit from the hunger of others? What if those of us in the “occupy” movement who are struggling for social justice are successful in abolishing the profit system?
    Then who is responsible for food safety if an EATER is harmed by their food? (I hesitate to use the term “consumer” because it is prejudiced towards our existing throw-away society where markets are more important than farmers and communities)

  • Randy Francisco

    Bill, if you want to have universal social justice, you have to have a societal safety net. This means that your government would universally have to insure the people. This is probably not what the anti-government people want to hear.

  • Bill Anderson

    I’m not talking about the government. I’m talking about commerce and profit in the food system.
    If no one is profiting from food, then who is there to hold responsible if there are outbreaks?

  • Randy Francisco

    Bill, Your topic was social justice achieved by eliminating all profit from the food system. If you were to achieve this you would still need an entity to hold everyone in the society accountable and assist those damaged. We usually call this government.

  • Frank Allen

    History has proven that a purely socialistic system (one without profit where all are treated fairly and equally) is undoable. In a free market system such as is found in the U.S., profit is the incentive that drives the market. It is not some evil that is to be avoided or hated or feared. Even in purely socialist environments, there is always a tendancy to look for profit, even if through the black market. China is an example of a socialist system with free market leanings. They have seen the benefits of the profit incentive.
    One may hate the negative side of the free market (greed, corruption, etc.) but one cannot deny or ignore the benefits of such a system. In a purely socialist society, quite often it is the poor slob at the end of the line who suffers the most when something goes bad, and the government may or may not make any effort to compensate the one who suffers due to the imcompetence of others. I for one choose to err on the side of justice, which says that each of us must be held accountable for our own actions, and each of us is responsible to our fellow beings when we cause them harm. The farmer, the jobber, the grocer, and the “consumer” are all accountable. Whether one likes it or not, this country is founded on the rule of law, not on anarchy, and the rule of law is designed to protect us from the carelessness of those upon whom we depend for our subsistance.

  • BOB

    I AM HAVING A DEALING WITH A FOOD CHANE NOW. CALL ME AND IF YOU GET A VOICE MAIL LEAVE A MESSAGE AND A NUMBER AND I WILL CALL YOU BACK. IT WILL BE WORTH YOUR WHILE.
    BOB