September 19th, 2006 @ 5:55pm
KSL TV Salt Lake City
Ed Yeates Reporting

"I think you have to step back and go, ‘well, maybe convenience and money aren’t worth it.’"

A Seattle attorney and advocate for change in the produce industry says, though convenient, maybe bagged produce isn’t such a good idea after all. As the probe continues into E. coli contaminated spinach that’s now sickened people in 21 states, Bill Marler says it may be just one more example of a systemic problem that’s been plaguing the industry for the past four years.

Put your hand in any soil and you’ll find E. coli bacteria, but most is harmless. Contaminate thie soil, say with fecal material, and now you may have a potent strain of the bacteria that makes people really sick.

Look at other incidents over the past few years. The nasty strain shows up in produce in three states, sickening 23 people. Fifty kids at a Mormon dance camp in Spokane get hit. Fourteen people at an old folks home in San Francisco are infected. Two die. In northern Utah, two women remain on dialysis. And these are just reported cases.

Whether meat or produce…

Bill Marler, Spokane Attorney: "There has never been a smoking gun. They’ve never found the farm or the cow. They’ve never been able to do that, and that’s been frustrating for both the FDA and the industry."

Bill Marler is in Salt Lake, representing people here considering lawsuits. He’s also formed a non-profit group that, in his words, teaches the industry how not to poison people. Unlike a single head of lettuce or one bundle of spinach, bagged varieties, he claims, pose a unique problem.

Bill Marler: "When you’re eating a bag, you may be eating parts of ten, twenty, thirty, forty bunches. You have a couple of pieces of bad heads of lettuce or bad bunches of spinach and it gets massively processed in a big facility that gets spread out among hundreds if not thousands of bags."

Consumers like bagged produce because it’s often more convenient and economical, but Marler’s argument…

Bill Marler: "Cost to the consumer or cost to the 77-year old woman in Wisconsin who died, or the child I visited with last night in Wisconsin whose been on dialysis for seventeen days."

Marler says perhaps we’ve reached a point where all of us need to strike a new balance between what is convenient and what is risk.