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
Apple Grower of the YearTerhune Orchards Celebrates 40th Anniversary This Weekend
April 24, 2015
It’s a Mount-u-mental celebration for the 2005 Apple Grower Of The Year and family. Read More
OrganicWebcast: Weed Control Options For Organic Tomato Production
April 24, 2015
As part of a series of free educational webcasts on The Plant Management Network, a presentation on weed control considerations Read More
ProductionpH Reducer Certified For Use In Organic Production
April 24, 2015
Growth Products Ltd. announced that pH Reducer has been certified as a Registered Material for Use in Organic Agriculture by Read More
FruitsEast, Midwest Braces For Cold Snap
April 24, 2015
Growers keep an eye on the thermometer as temperatures dip into the mid to low 20s. Read More
anthracnose of tomato; diseases of tomato; crop protection
Disease ControlAnthracnose Can Cause Red Alert For Tomato Growers
April 24, 2015
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this disease. Read More
UF Glow mandarin
Varieties & RootstocksFlorida Citrus Growers Vie For Chance To Plant Experimental Selections
April 23, 2015
Meetings set to support launch of rapid release program’s third suite of new varieties. Read More
Apples & PearsAPHIS Proposal To Allow Apples From China Becomes Rule
April 23, 2015
Growers in China expected to follow set standards of production to prevent possible importing of new pests. Read More
Havana, Cuba view
CitrusRenewed Relations With Cuba A Concern For Florida Growers [Opinion]
April 23, 2015
It might be said Sunshine State producers are worried if wider trade is opened as the potential for competing winter crops is real. Read More
7-6-27 mandarin hybrid
Varieties & Rootstocks4 Fresh Florida Citrus Selections To Watch For
April 22, 2015
Meet the newest group of UF/IFAS FAST TRACK release candidates. Read More
Tomato necrotic streak virus symptoms
TomatoesNew Virus Detected In South Florida Tomatoes
April 22, 2015
Infectious species said to be a distant relative of tobacco streak virus, which is the cause of bean red node. Read More
The Latest
Apple Grower of the YearTerhune Orchards Celebrates 40th Anniversary This Weeke…
April 24, 2015
It’s a Mount-u-mental celebration for the 2005 Apple Grower Of The Year and family. Read More
OrganicWebcast: Weed Control Options For Organic Tomato Produ…
April 24, 2015
As part of a series of free educational webcasts on The Plant Management Network, a presentation on weed control considerations Read More
ProductionpH Reducer Certified For Use In Organic Production
April 24, 2015
Growth Products Ltd. announced that pH Reducer has been certified as a Registered Material for Use in Organic Agriculture by Read More
FruitsEast, Midwest Braces For Cold Snap
April 24, 2015
Growers keep an eye on the thermometer as temperatures dip into the mid to low 20s. Read More
anthracnose of tomato; diseases of tomato; crop protection
Disease ControlAnthracnose Can Cause Red Alert For Tomato Growers
April 24, 2015
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this disease. Read More
UF Glow mandarin
Varieties & RootstocksFlorida Citrus Growers Vie For Chance To Plant Experime…
April 23, 2015
Meetings set to support launch of rapid release program’s third suite of new varieties. Read More
Apples & PearsAPHIS Proposal To Allow Apples From China Becomes Rule
April 23, 2015
Growers in China expected to follow set standards of production to prevent possible importing of new pests. Read More
Havana, Cuba view
CitrusRenewed Relations With Cuba A Concern For Florida Growe…
April 23, 2015
It might be said Sunshine State producers are worried if wider trade is opened as the potential for competing winter crops is real. Read More
7-6-27 mandarin hybrid
Varieties & Rootstocks4 Fresh Florida Citrus Selections To Watch For
April 22, 2015
Meet the newest group of UF/IFAS FAST TRACK release candidates. Read More
Tomato necrotic streak virus symptoms
TomatoesNew Virus Detected In South Florida Tomatoes
April 22, 2015
Infectious species said to be a distant relative of tobacco streak virus, which is the cause of bean red node. Read More
Apples & PearsFruit Processor To Expand Operations In Virginia
April 22, 2015
Andros Foods North America to invest $73 million in area and hiring 160. Read More
FruitsOverturned Truck Dumps Millions Of Bees On Highway
April 22, 2015
The truck with 448 hives was headed to a farm in Washington. Read More
Crop ProtectionBrandt Adds Zonix Biofungicide To Portfolio
April 21, 2015
Brandt, a manufacturer of agricultural specialty products, has added Zonix biofungicide to its line of organic and sustainable products. Zonix, manufactured Read More
CitrusFarm Bureau Supports Bill To Halt Controversial WOTUS R…
April 21, 2015
 Legislation would force EPA and the U.S. Army of Engineers to withdraw Waters of the United States proposal. Read More
EquipmentResearchers Seeking Agricultural Applications For Unman…
April 21, 2015
From stress detection to yield estimation, technology offers promise in farming. Read More
CitrusRecord Number Of Organic Producers In U.S.
April 21, 2015
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Services says domestic production has increased by 250% across all markets since 2002. Read More
FertilizerVerdesian Life Sciences Introduces New Phosphite-Free P…
April 21, 2015
Product designed as alternative for nut and stone fruit growers with concerns about MRLs. Read More
Disease ControlNew Fungicide For Wide Range Of Fruits, Vegetables In C…
April 21, 2015
FMC officially enters biological marketplace with first sales of Fracture fungicide. Read More