An Opposing View

One of the top experts on the Food Safety Modernization Act is a man whose very name evokes fear and quite possibly hatred in the hearts of food company executives across the country. Bill Marler unquestionably has become the top food safety lawyer in the nation. His Seattle, WA, firm, Marler Clark, handles literally thousands of cases per year.

In fact, after being retained to represent people sickened in the headline-grabbing Jack in the Box and Odwalla juice cases, he decided to found Marler Clark in 1998 to deal with nothing but food safety cases. His firm is usually working on 75 to 100 outbreaks at any one time, he says, and is currently handling a total of 150 cases right now involving by far the leading crops when it comes to food safety problems — leafy greens and sprouts — predominately sprouts.

His firm represented 100 people who sued for damages in the 2006 spinach outbreak, or 95% of the people sickened. Of the five people who died, his firm represented four of them. The only family he didn’t represent elected not to sue, he says.

In the 18 years since he embarked on the infamous Jack in the Box case, for which he won a judgment of $12.5 million for one family, his firm has collected nearly $600 million from defendants. He even has an epidemiologist on the payroll. He has eight attorneys on staff, and two of the original four worked against him on the Jack in the Box case. “By the end of that case they knew more about E. coli than anyone else,” he says.

Marler’s Involvement

These days Marler says he spends half his time as a lawyer and the other half as a food safety advocate. He says he is very familiar with the history of the Food Safety Modernization Act, having worked on the bill for a decade. In fact, he says he was in the offices of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) on the Friday before Christmas when it looked like the bill was dead. He says it almost died because of a variety of reasons, but it all came down to politics. Of course, politics is also the reason the bill eventually passed, because the House flipped Democrat when President Obama was elected in 2008, and there were also a lot of high-profile food recalls. Besides spinach, there was the pepper recall that was originally thought to be tomatoes, as well as peanut butter, a case involving Taco Bell, etc.

Marler says all the victims who testified at the Congressional and Senate hearings were his firm’s clients. The reason was simple. “When they wanted a victim, it was easy to call me,” he says. “I flew back (to Washington, DC) two dozen clients in 2009 and 2010 who were either sickened or family members of people who died. We even had a party for those who testified.”

Marler himself testified in 2008. In 2009, the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of the act. Several industry groups joined with consumer groups to push that House bill, which passed in July. But things slowed down because the Senate bill had differences. And in the Senate, health care discussions stopped everything else. After that was resolved, and the Tester-Hagen Amendment was added to placate some of the bill’s opponents, passage quickly followed.

Blameless Growers Benefit

Marler obviously favors the law because of its benefits to consumers. However, he also believes it could be good for growers, pointing to the spinach recall as an example. In the late summer of 2006 his office started getting calls from consumers, and two mentioned they had consumed a certain brand of baby spinach to Marler Clark’s epidemiologist. The firm started calling health departments around the country, and after investigation filed the first lawsuit against the company. Six hours later, says Marler, the FDA issued a recall of all spinach in the U.S. “They threw the whole spinach industry under the bus,” he says. “It makes more sense to tag the guy who caused the problem, not the entire industry.”

Marler notes that there’s a portion of the Food Safety Modernization Act that’s intended to get the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention and FDA to work together to try and avoid recalling the wrong product. That is a boon to growers who happen to grow the same crop fingered in a foodborne illness outbreak, but didn’t personally grow the produce in question. That portion of the act will help growers, but they still need to get out in front of potential problems.

“That would be my biggest suggestion: Do it now and get prepared, because eventually it will be required of you by government,” he says. “People who know what they’re doing are better off doing it themselves than someone from the outside, such as the government.”

Leave a Reply

Featured Stories
sprayer applying bactericides to citrus trees
Insect & Disease Update
December 5, 2016
Best Practices For Bactericides Key To Vetting Citrus Solution
Approval finally cleared for antimicrobial applications, and now growers wait and hope to see positive results. Read More
Low-volume overhead irrigation system at Jones Potato Farm
Citrus
December 5, 2016
South Florida Endures Driest November On Record
Region has not experienced any significant rainfall since Hurricane Matthew. Read More
Meadowlark, a University of Florida release, is a popular Southern U.S. variety with machine-harvest characteristics and early ripening. The very large berries offer excellent firmness and flavor. Requires a pollinator. Fall Creek is licensed to sell Meadowlark in the U.S.
Fruits
December 5, 2016
Fall Creek Nursery 2017 Variety Showcase [Slideshow]
For information about these varieties, contact Fall Creek Nursery: Fall Creek Nursery 39318 Jasper Lowell Road Lowell, OR 97452 800-538-30015 [email protected] Read More
Chandra Roberts and Randy Dodds of Brandt Consolidated
Fruits
December 5, 2016
Team Coverage: Fruit And Nut Industry Conferences
Can’t make it to the biggest fruit and vegetable conferences? No sweat, we’ll take you there. Read More
sv3255-pb-fruit-4
Vegetables
December 4, 2016
Rispens Seeds 2016 Vegetable Variety Showcase
For more information, contact Rispens Seeds: 1357 Dutch American Way, P.O. Box 310, Beecher, IL 60401 708-946-6560; WEBSITE RispensSeeds.com FAX Read More
Young Grower Alliance members survey some of the plantings in the peach architecture research block at USDA's Appalachian Fruit Research Laboratory in Kearneysville, WV. (Photo credit: Christina Herrick)
GenNext Growers
December 4, 2016
New Loans Available For Small, Beginning, Urban Growers
USDA recently announced streamlined guaranteed Loans and additional lender category for small-scale operators. Read More
Microscope research
Crop Protection
December 4, 2016
Bio Huma Netics Opens New Lab Facility
Facility to improve quality control and help expand product line. Read More
dynasty-dsc_2035
Vegetables
December 4, 2016
Outstanding Seed Company 2016 Vegetable Variety Showcase
For more information, contact Outstanding Seed Company, LLC: P.O. Box 202, Monaca, PA 15061 PHONE 877-248-4567; WEBSITE OutstandingSeed.com FAX 724-775-1544 Read More
Terence Robinson makes some cuts to get the big fruiting wood off of Gerry Van Oostrum's tree. (Photo credit: Christina Herrick)
Apples & Pears
December 4, 2016
Easy Tips For Apple Pruning Demonstration Held In Pennsylvania
Seminar to be presented in both English and Spanish by Penn State University Extension experts. Read More
This variety has beautiful orange skin with hints of red, as well as strong durable flesh. The fruit is large in size and has exceptional shipping quality, accompanied by prominent flavor. It ripens between May 20 and June 5. USPP#27,189
Fruits
December 4, 2016
Dave Wilson Nursery 2017 Variety Showcase [Slideshow]
Dave Wilson Nursery in Hickman, CA, presents a new interspecific apricot, clingstone nectarine, red-speckled pluot, and more. Read More
The Latest
Insect & Disease Update
December 5, 2016
Best Practices For Bactericides Key To V…
Approval finally cleared for antimicrobial applications, and now growers wait and hope to see positive results. Read More
Citrus
December 5, 2016
South Florida Endures Driest November On…
Region has not experienced any significant rainfall since Hurricane Matthew. Read More
Fruits
December 5, 2016
Fall Creek Nursery 2017 Variety Showcase…
For information about these varieties, contact Fall Creek Nursery: Fall Creek Nursery 39318 Jasper Lowell Road Lowell, OR 97452 800-538-30015 [email protected] Read More
Fruits
December 5, 2016
Team Coverage: Fruit And Nut Industry Co…
Can’t make it to the biggest fruit and vegetable conferences? No sweat, we’ll take you there. Read More
Vegetables
December 4, 2016
Rispens Seeds 2016 Vegetable Variety Sho…
For more information, contact Rispens Seeds: 1357 Dutch American Way, P.O. Box 310, Beecher, IL 60401 708-946-6560; WEBSITE RispensSeeds.com FAX Read More
GenNext Growers
December 4, 2016
New Loans Available For Small, Beginning…
USDA recently announced streamlined guaranteed Loans and additional lender category for small-scale operators. Read More
Crop Protection
December 4, 2016
Bio Huma Netics Opens New Lab Facility
Facility to improve quality control and help expand product line. Read More
Vegetables
December 4, 2016
Outstanding Seed Company 2016 Vegetable …
For more information, contact Outstanding Seed Company, LLC: P.O. Box 202, Monaca, PA 15061 PHONE 877-248-4567; WEBSITE OutstandingSeed.com FAX 724-775-1544 Read More
Apples & Pears
December 4, 2016
Easy Tips For Apple Pruning Demonstratio…
Seminar to be presented in both English and Spanish by Penn State University Extension experts. Read More
Fruits
December 4, 2016
Dave Wilson Nursery 2017 Variety Showcas…
Dave Wilson Nursery in Hickman, CA, presents a new interspecific apricot, clingstone nectarine, red-speckled pluot, and more. Read More
Fruits
December 3, 2016
TOMRA Acquires Compac Sorting Machine Ma…
Transaction to be complete in first quarter of 2017. Read More
More Vegetables
December 3, 2016
Johnny’s Selected Seeds 2016 Veget…
For more information, contact Johnny’s Selected Seeds: 955 Benton Ave., Winslow, ME 04901 PHONE 877-564-6697; WEBSITE JohnnySeeds.com FAX 800-738-6314 Read More
Grapes
December 3, 2016
You Need To Have Flexibility In Your Vin…
Prioritization and compromise are sometimes necessary in a challenging growing environment. Read More
Fruits
December 3, 2016
C&O Nursery 2017 Variety Showcase [S…
C&O Nursery in Wenatchee, WA, offers a Jonagold sport, an early Fuji, and a Red Delicious sport. Read More
Apples & Pears
December 3, 2016
It’s A Global Celebration For World Pear…
USA Pears to host sampling events in 24 countries for 24 hours of continuous pear goodness. Read More
Grapes
December 2, 2016
Study Investigates Savings From Naturall…
After two years on the market, researchers ‘discuss cost-cutting benefits of ‘Sunpreme.' Read More
Grapes
December 2, 2016
Washington Wine Seminar Expands Format
Research-focused sessions to be held across state in conjunction with event in 2017. Read More
Apples & Pears
December 2, 2016
New Director Of Consumer Health And Med…
Organization announces Korenna Wilson to take on the role of raising consumers’ awareness of apples benefits. Read More