President Obama once said:

"There are certain things only a government can do. And one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat are safe and do not cause us harm.”

A few days ago I penned this Op-ed (declined by the Washington post) – it seems a bit more on point tonight after our President’s speech:

Linda Rivera’s excruciating case of food poisoning (Severe Case Gives Context to Issue of Food Safety Washington Post 9/1/09) should shine some light on a crucial reality that is missing from most health care reform plans: you can’t fix America’s health care unless you provide Americans with a safe food supply.

The mother of six lies comatose in her Las Vegas hospital room as a consequence of eating cookie dough contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 – a vicious microbe previously associated with hamburger, spinach, lettuce, and raw milk as well as other products. But she is not an isolated case. According to federal health authorities, she is just one of the 76 million Americans sickened each year by tainted food, adding billions in costs to individuals, to food-producers and to our beleaguered medical system.

Yet food safety is rarely mentioned in the scream fest that has been national health care debate in and around Congress. In fact, our national squabble threatens to scuttle any hope for the much-needed food safety legislation that overwhelmingly passed the House this summer. The Food Safety Enhancement Act would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority it needs to inspect food-processing plants and stop the distribution of food tainted with E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria or any of the other usual suspects. It would increase the agency’s ability to use emerging technologies to trace contaminated foods and additives back to their source, while imposing new safety standards on both domestic and imported food products.

The potential benefits – to our children, our parents, and our neighbors and to the U.S. economy – are enormous. While the food industry insists that we have the world’s safest food supply, the authoritative Centers for Disease Control suggest otherwise: 76 million sick people per year, 208,000 per day, 8,675 per hour. Most of those cases are relatively mild, but the CDC says 325,000 people will be hospitalized, and at least 5,000 of them will die of food poisoning.

Consider the costs to the health care system, such as it is. The Department of Agriculture estimates the combined medical costs, productivity losses, and the costs of premature death at a minimum of $6.9 billion per year. But that estimate excludes costs such as lost business opportunities, public costs, pain and suffering and much more. The Food and Drug Administration assigns a cost of $5 million per death, reaching a total cost of $17 billion per year. But using a more complex FDA formula that factors in the full societal cost, the savings reach an astronomical $357 billion.

There may be argument over the calculations, but these are not paper costs; they are real. In the 17 years I have been representing the victims of food-borne illness, we have collected more than $500 million in settlements and verdicts against food manufacturers. Most of that goes to cover the costs of medical bills, lost wages and the pain and suffering incurred by people whose only crime was to believe processors` claims that their products were safe. So what if we passed meaningful food safety legislation? What if we saved billions of dollars in medical care and treatment by avoiding poisoning in the first place? What if Linda Rivera and thousands of Americans like her never became infected with E. coli or Salmonella or Listeria?

It’s time to tone down the rhetoric on health care and do something positive: pass meaningful food safety legislation that will put lawyers like me out of business, while saving money and the lives and well being of innocent Americans.

  • I couldn’t agree more, something has to be done and the sooner the better. Way too many people get food poisoning! What about those that do not visit doctors and/or a misdiagnosed. I believe the numbers are higher than stated for victims of food poisoning.

  • I care about food safety, that’s why I buy from farmers I know, and avoid processed and non-organic food. But the laws that are supposed to be addressing food safety are going to endanger my access to safe food.
    In this country, through agricultural subsidies and government policies, food has been taken out of the hands of small farmers and put into the hands of industries. In addition, proper food processing has been taken out of the hands of homemakers, and has become an enormous industry with a hefty lobbying influence in Congress and locally. The result has been great quantities of the lowest quality food available everywhere, and extreme difficulty accessing high quality healthful food.
    Food has become so consistently low in quality for so many decades that people hardly know what good food is anymore. In fact, food has undergone major changes in its basic makeup, as it has evolved from home-grown to industrial. The addictive qualities (e.g. sweeteners, artificial flavors, gluten and other allergenic substances) have been greatly enhanced. Dangerous components such as food additives and deadly bacteria have become much more commonplace. While at the same time, the nutritional and healing components have been taken out of foods, in order to extend shelf life.
    The industry will lobby to protect their interests, so that any political efforts to regulate food safety will not threaten their profits, which are a large part of the underlying force driving the food industry into unsafe food practices in the first place.
    Thus in the face of public ignorance and industrial lobbying, the only possible place for improvement to occur is in the small sustainable farms popping up all over the country, and through public education, as the Weston A. Price Foundation and others have so generously provided.
    So, Mr. Marler, why do you continue to publish tirades against our only hopes for improvement, while working to maintain the status quo?

  • Sharon Smith

    Mr.Bill Marler@staff
    Bill has been helping Stephanie Smith Myself and my son threw Stephanie’s E-colia case.Mr.Marler and his staff are truely very passionate about these cases well informed and treat them like it was their family. I am so pleased with all the work they have done,research etc. They are out to make laws better and like Bill said,I hope this goes away to the point where they put me out of business. I can not say enough good about the whole firm. They have truely help to keep me together threw these very tough times.Thank-you and God Bless…Sharon Smith

  • Food that is Organic doesn’t necessarily mean it is safer to eat.
    A. If the sanitizer used to clean your product, if any, is not applied correctly, or is ineffective, i.e. long enough exposure to kill pathogens are not met, etc., ecoli, salmonella, vibrio, listeria, etc., may get you sick… Anytime you grow something in an open field, all types of things can occur, even in your own backyard. Organic food may ensure you are NOT digesting non-organic residuals left on products after processing, etc.; however, the product is still prone to pathogen contamination.
    Organics that are not processed or cleansed with the proper sanitizers (organic sanitizers such as citric acid so they keep their organic status) may get you sick.
    One of the reasons a lot of produce from overseas or across the boarder is contaminated is because they grow their produce next to cattle or other large animal farms, i.e. cross contamination. I have spent many months in the field testing fields, both organic and non organic and have found high aerobic plate counts (pathogens such as salmonella, ecoli, etc.)
    Sustainable is great, however, it doesn’t prevent food poisoning. Same thing goes for traceability, it is great and necessary to do, and however, it still doesn’t help keep the food safe. You can trace it back once it has happened, however, that’s too late, we need to prevent outbreaks, and the only way to do that is by killing the pathogens on product before it is consumed, and that goes for organic and non organic.
    Heavy metals and carcinogenic residuals are not good for anyone, which is what we get with some non organics processed food, however, it takes a long period of time, it won’t kill you immediately. Food poisoning due to ecoli or similar may kill you with one bite. Pathogen contamination is dangerous and we need to address it sooner than later.
    Currently, the legislature is drafting all kinds of new laws to protect us, and that will help tremendously, however, it is up to us, the consumer to decide when purchasing our products from a retailer. We, consumers need to quit buying unsafe inferior products, then retailers will have no choice but to comply to our wants and needs. At the end of the day, consumers are in charge. Retailers cannot afford to let products go to waste more than a few times before they open their eyes and give us what we want.