For two decades, Seattle attorney Bill Marler has focused on foodborne illness cases. But outside of the courtroom, he has pushed for an overhaul of the nation’s food safety system.

His efforts were rewarded Tuesday when President Obama signed a $1.4 billion food safety bill. But Marler is concerned Republicans will not fund the new law.

“It’s vital that they fund it,” he said. “It’s really a manpower thing. It’s to get more inspectors, more boots on the ground.”

The new law gives federal regulators power to recall unsafe products and requires food manufacturers to prepare detailed food safety plans.

It will require more government inspections, something that’s important to Marler.

“The American people would be shocked to see what I see when I go into a facility that has caused a foodborne illness outbreak,” Marler said.

In addition to preventing outbreaks, the new law aims to catch outbreaks as quickly as possible by setting up regional centers around the country to investigate cases of foodborne illness.

“If we do a better job of surveying illnesses, we’re going to catch foodborne illness outbreaks sooner,” Marler said.

Ironically, if the bill is successful, Marler will have fewer clients in the future. But that’s alright by him.

“I’m happy to go do something else,” he said.

  • Ann Quinn, consumer

    Hey, Mr. Marler, right up to the end of the year, I didn’t think this bill would ever get out of Congress.
    And now I as a food consumer interested in protecting my family hope this food safety improvement doesn’t languish unfunded for 10 or 15 years on the FDA’s books like so many
    food safety and food inspection measures. It just must be implemented. By dint of all the
    food recalls of recent years, it’s pretty obvious the food industry does not police or
    monitor itself and needs the FDA to do it.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Perhaps we need to visit Congressman Kingston. I wonder if Senator Chambliss has talked to him about the Bill and whether they agree or disagree on the statistic that Kingston keeps throwing around (btw how does he arrive at 99.99% — how preposterous — just shows how you can create a statistic to support anything you wish to say).

  • Chris D

    If we do a better job of surveying illnesses, we’re going to catch foodborne illness outbreaks sooner,” Marler said
    This statement holds little merit due to the fact that surveying illnesses is just one small piece in keeping food safe for consumption and is not a PREVENATIVE measure. Giving more money to the Gov. will do little to decrease the size and scope of the outbreaks,and that is why Bill can safely say “I’m happy to go do something else’ in addition he already made millions off these cases.
    The problem is not that the food industry does not police or monitor itself and needs the FDA to do you think companies want to make people sick and lose millions of dollars??? The problem is slightly more complex and has to due with the modern food system itself. The problem starts at the fields and the way food is processed and distributed. This makes a small and sparce contamination problem into a much larger one. To test for all the potential Pathogens is relatively slow (maybe 72 hours) and expensive process, and statistically speaking very hard to find.
    More Gov. spending and oversight?? lets start first on wallstreet!

  • I agree with you that more needs to be done to correct the large “food system” in the US and around the world. I strongly disagree that “surveying illnesses” will not help. In 20 years of experience, most companies who poison us never think there are going to be caught and so frankly run their operations that way. Being able to catch them is a great tool to force them to clean up their act.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    To Chris D. I definitely disagree with you that “surveying illnesses is not a preventative measure”. In my case my young son was poisoned in November, 2008 by PCA’s peanut paste (peanutbutter crackers). While I worked with CDC and local/state authorities, who by the way, did a painfully slow and inadequate job, to track down the poisonous source, elderly people were dying from the same poisonous peanut filth. I have made friends with their loved ones. I think they would agree with me that if the authorities had done a better job of tracking down what had poisoned my son and others earlier in the outbreak, it would have prevented the needless loss of their mothers. The Foodsafety Bill will hopefully improve this aspect of prevention of “spread” by better coordination between agencies, but certainly the prevention of poison in the first place would be the goal — and yes a complicated goal to achieve.

  • Bill and Gabrielle,
    When the CDC is able to pinpoint the source of the contamination it is way too late. The fact of the matter is that when contaminated food is consumed it takes around 12-72 hours depending on the pathogen and the health of the individual (Old, young, immune compromise..). Then you need those individuals to report their condition and a stool analysis needs to be performed to determine the pathogen..all the while more people unaware are still consuming the contaminated food. Surveying illnesses is an important component, but just one of many things that needs to be acheived in a timely manner. Is Gov. with all the red tape and bureaucracy capable of doing things in a timely manner? just ask your mailman

  • In the UK food safety is controlled by the Food Standards Agency. Does the US not have a comparable body to ably deal with these issues..?