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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

My New Year’s Resolutions – What I will be doing next year

Smith.jpgI needed a vacation badly (so did the subscribers and readers of my blog), as I seem to never be at a loss for something to write about – which is a bad for all of us.

2010, kept me busy with Stephanie Smith and Cargill, Linda Rivera and Nestle (that one not over yet) and one too many trips between Seattle and Washington D.C. I therefore only glanced at the Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton’s headline “Overhaul of food safety laws might not be to GOP’s taste”  until after New Years. After reading it, I cannot say I am surprised, but disappointment is at risk of setting in. Here are some of the key quotes:

The massive overhaul of food safety laws approved by Congress this week will take years to implement and could be undercut by Republicans who don’t want to fund an expansion of the Food and Drug Administration.

Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, the ranking GOP member on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FDA, said the number of cases of food-borne illnesses in the country does not justify the $1.4 billion the new law is estimated to cost over the first five years.

“I would not identify it as something that will necessarily be zeroed out, but it is quite possible it will be scaled back if it is significant overreach,” said Kingston, who is likely to become chairman of the subcommittee when Republicans assume control of the House in January.

“We still have a food supply that’s 99.99 percent safe,” Kingston said in an interview. “No one wants anybody to get sick, and we should always strive to make sure food is safe. But the case for a $1.4 billion expenditure isn’t there.”

Rivera.jpgReally? Where has Jack been in the last decade? In a hole, under a rock, at a “tea party”?

In a 2010 report by Robert L. Scharff for the Pew Memorial Trust, Medical and other costs to victims amounted to $152,000,000,000 a year. Even with the new CDC estimates of foodborne disease that came out just before Christmas (48 million people, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000), the Pew Study did not account for recall costs, lost sales, loss of reputation, loss of exports, etc to the business that caused or businesses were in the chain of distribution of the offending product. However, one only has to remember the Spinach, Tomato, Peanut Butter and Egg outbreaks in the last few years to see $100,000,000’s in business losses – independent of the $10,000,0000’s paid in personal injury settlements and verdicts.

The FDA needs resources – especially inspectors. Spending money to inspect high-risk food manufacturing facilities more than once every several years is spending money wisely. Education, prevention and enforcement are key to saving money in the long-run. Ignoring the problem by simply saying it is “99.9 percent safe” is heartless, stupid and bad for business.

Giving local, state and the CDC the surveillance tools and resources to figure out outbreaks sooner will save lives and make sure that the correct product and manufacturer are targeted so an entire industry is not tainted by the tainted product.

Without leadership in food safety, 2011 may well look like many of the years before to me – more outbreaks, more suffering and more lawsuits. However, I resolve in 2011 to spend even more time in Washington D. C. trying to explain to Jack and his buddies, “why it is a bad idea to allow your constituent to be poisoned.”  I also resolve to keep pushing the CDC, FDA and FSIS to do better and to spend our money wisely on doing things that matter.  I also resolve to make sure the ideas behind the Tester Amendment (encourage small Ag) does in fact do that, but also does not compromise food safety.

It looks to be a busy year.

  • Dear Bill,
    Along with you, I am also busy as ever, not just because of outbreaks, but also prevention. Industry continues to ramp up its efforts. I play a part in this as an auditor, consultant and trainer. I am preparing now for a food safety effort that will take me to Central America for the week.
    We cannot sit around and wait for FDA enforcement. We will have the law, and as an industry, we know what to do. Yes, we need FDA to guide us, they have done that. The ACT gives us the tools.
    There is no excuse for us. FDA or not, industry must assure food safety; there are a lot of folks committed to making it happen. It is the problem facilities that make it bad for the industry. There are relatively few that just do not care for whatever reason, these are the ones that need FDA enforcement. Until recently, I honestly could say I never met an operator who wanted to get people ill, with DeCoster and Parnell, that changed.
    And as we see, the firms with food safety programs are not excluded from goofs; the bugs are very smart and know how to exploit lapses in food safety management, a very meticulous system must be built to stop Listeria, E coli, Salmonella, and the rest, and the ones that cannot do it safely, they need to stop operating.
    I am hopeful in the New Year we can get our ACT together… together.
    The government and its problems aside, they must not deter us from the mission.
    Thanks much.

  • Teri Williams

    It’s unfortunate that you’ll probably be as busy in 2011 as you were in 2010 and 2009. You’re the white knight to all you represent and I wish you great success in convincing our government that food safety is a primary concern…It certainly is to those who’s lives have been irrevocably changed and/or destroyed. I’m praying that 2011 brings the changes that are needed to protect people like the Rivera’s and their families. No one should have to endure what Linnie, Richard and the family has. While Linnie has spent the last year and a half in the hospital; her oldest son and twins boys have graduated from high school, she’s lost a sister and most recently her father. She’s been unable to be “there” for any of these life changing events. With that thought, I again wish you success in your endeavors for all those who aren’t able to speak for themselves.

  • Doc Mudd

    Program funding shortfalls are always a threat from the Congress, and with ‘austerity’ our new watchword for 2011 we can anticipate a food safety fight.
    Good news! Perusal of the USDA FY 2011 Budget Summary and Annual Performance Plan
    [ http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/FY11budsum.pdf ]
    exposes obvious possibilities for securely prioritizing the funding of food safety ahead of wasteful bureacratic pork:
    * euthanize the ridiculous Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE – a legendary money pit with nothing substantial to show for hundreds of millions invested)
    * rein-in over-funding of Natural Resources Conservation Service, NRCS (a lazy, misguided bureacracy)
    * follow through on the excellent decision to discontinue funding the obsolete RC&D program (a biased, wasteful farce of a program)
    * scrap the Healthy Foods Financing Initiative (unnecessary, poorly focused and wasteful)
    * dump the Rural Entrepreneur Microassistance Program (unnecessary for feasible businesses)
    * discontinue the Value-Added Producer Grants (unnecessary for feasible businesses)
    * cut the Regional Innovation Initiative (here’s an unbridled give-away of taxpayer money)
    * disallow the Community Access to Local Foods program (a sop to greedy unfocused local politicians)
    * shitcan the NASS Organic Agriculture Study (there’s so little to count, why bother?)
    * pass over the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (can we really afford to subsidize food snobbery?)
    These are just a few obviously wasteful federal programs that should be cut, long before the safety of American consumers needs to be compromised.
    Also, don’t overlook the need to eliminate Cooperative Extension Services, if your state hasn’t already jettisonned this dinosaur from the 1920’s. The cost-benefit for remaining Cooperative Extension agencies is abysmal, an absolute public embarrassment.
    Call and email your congresspersons to inform them of these wasteful pork barrel programs, ripe for excision by their austerity scalpels.

  • Bill Anderson

    I find it very telling that Doc Mudd is advocating for vicious slashing of all programs which support local and sustainable agriculture.
    Please tell how I am supposed to NOT believe that all of this “food safety” rhetoric goingon around here is really just guise for destroying small sustainable farmers while promoting the interests of corporate agri-business?
    Why don’t we call for cutting all subsidies for corn, soy, and feedlot fossil-fuel intensive agriculture? Are we that afraid of letting big business compete in the free market? No, instead let’s just pick on the likes of SARE, Rural Entrepreneur Microassistance Program, Healthy Food Financing Initiative, and Value-added producer grants.
    Seriously. This speaks volumes about the agenda of these so-called “food safety” people.
    If you want to talk about an incompetant misguided and lazy bureacracy, let’s start with FDA.

  • Good grief Bill. People who think differently than you are not evil, they just have a different point of view. Lumping everyone into one category for you is both simplistic and stupid. Did you actually read my post? Here is part:
    Without leadership in food safety, 2011 may well look like many of the years before to me – more outbreaks, more suffering and more lawsuits. However, I resolve in 2011 to spend even more time in Washington D. C. trying to explain to Jack and his buddies, “why it is a bad idea to allow your constituent to be poisoned.”  I also resolve to keep pushing the CDC, FDA and FSIS to do better and to spend our money wisely on doing things that matter.  I also resolve to make sure the ideas behind the Tester Amendment (encourage small Ag) does in fact do that, but also does not compromise food safety.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    I’ve taken a look at the USDA budget, link provided by Doc Mudd (by the way, it would be helpful to know your name?). Anyway, I recognize many of those programs to be mainstays in the livelihoods of many Amercians. Many of which Doc mentions to slash. There is proposed millions to be added to many departments and focused efforts. For FSIS there is only 18 million additional proposed. The FSIS has a smaller budget than agriculture marketing. FSIS budget is a little more than 1/2 of 1 % of the total USDA budget. Ag research gets more than Food Safety, and while there is $5 million budgeted under research for additional pathogen prevention research this year, I still have to wonder if 1/2 of 1% of the total budget sets any sort of priority for the USDA on food safety of their governed products. (btw, what is up with spending almost $2 million more in researching their building capital needs? Just ask any maintenance guy in each building for an estimate. Save yourself $2 million.) Feeding people through SNAP and WIC are extremely worthy causes, but I should think that Food Safety would rate as important as Marketing. . . Just my two cents.

  • Doc Mudd

    Bill A.: “Why don’t we call for cutting all subsidies for corn, soy, and feedlot fossil-fuel intensive agriculture?”
    What rock you been hidin’ under, Bill A.? See, it’s been done, done and done. I don’t think there’ve been any direct subsidies or LDP to corn or soy growers the past couple of years. Never were any direct subsidies to feedlots.
    “Are we that afraid of letting big business compete in the free market?”
    Nope, turns out businesses of ANY SIZE, if they are intelligently planned and well managed (and feasible in the first place), can compete successfully in the market.
    And that exposes the soft underbelly of your much ballyhooed ‘small sustainable farming’. After literally decades of funded research, of generous financial and technical support to aspiring small farmers, of cheerleading and forcefully introducing market niches…after all that we have little enough to show. Nothing new has been invented, pretty good odds by now nothin’s gonna be.
    We have a ‘small sustainable farm’ culture that cannot sustain even the fundamental protocols of food safety (as demonstrated by the Tester amendment to S.510). We’ve dug a dry well with all of our pricey research and studies, a big deep expensive dry hole. The ‘experiment’ can safely be concluded on the public dollar – the results are in; the Emperor has no clothes.
    Time to let ‘small sustainable farming’ fend for itself in the real world. It has more than ample support within its various private activist organizations. Just step up and feed the world, save the planet and revolutionize agriculture…the way you all have been promising to do for nearly half a century. Just get on with it and simply show us how it’s done. You’ve made it sound so obvious and simple and trendy all these many, many uneventful seasons. Stop whining, step outside your internet echo chambers and just do it.
    Oh, and operate safely while you’re at it. Have a care for your customer’s welfare. The markets; your customers (and their attorneys) will continue to insist on that.

  • Randy Francisco

    Well if Republicans don’t want sensible regulations and enforcement then we just have to continue to sue the bastards who poison us! Unfortunate. Prevention is so much better.
    Randy Francisco

  • Dog Doctor

    Doc Mudd, don’t expect Bill Anderson to read or respond. I think he makes a single comment and moves on. Otherwise he would read all the comments about how wrong he is about so many things..
    To Randy, you are correct it became clear over the weekend on the national talk shows the agenda for the Repulicans is to protect the rich, and keep protections from the poor by defanging the government which should make Bill Anderson happy. The republicans are busy trying to defund the regulatory agencies so miners, consumers, and everyone else will have to depend on people like Bill Marler to protect them from those that put profits before people. Maybe the Republican slogan for 2012.
    The tea partiers are chanting that the “free market” will provide all the help people need so expect to see FEMA to be defunded and NO FEDERAL RESPONSE TO DISASTERS. They are trying to prevent federal funds from going to California.
    So again I will be praying for Bill and staff good health and they will be the guard againist those that put profits before people from 2011 to 2012 and hopefully the American people will recongize the true agenda and return to sanity in 2012.