Put a Trial Lawyer Out of Business
November 23, 2009 1:24 PM   Subscribe

A noted food contamination trial lawyer lobbies for legislation to enhance food safety with, among other things, a T-shirt encouraging Congress to put him out of business. William Marler, who has successfully litigated a number of food contamination cases involving children sickened by E. coli, salmonella and botulism, is supporting the passage of Senate legislation which would tighten food safety inspection procedures. Similar legislation passed the House earlier this year. Not everyone likes it -- and among the groups concerned are some local organic farmers and consumers.
posted by bearwife (8 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Does "tighten food safety inspection procedures" work the same way as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act tightened toy safety inspection - by letting the big corporations like Mattel lobby their way out of responsibility under the bill while increasing the cost burden of smaller toy manufacturers?

CPSIA has created a cost advantage for Mattel as an indirect result of government regulation, regardless of how well-meaning that legislation was in the first place. Any reason to believe that food inspection will go any differently?
posted by TheFlamingoKing at 2:09 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

It doesn't sound like it, TheFlamingoKing. He's asking for all the right stuff - more frequent FDA investigations, which don't cost the purveyor, and the like. This isn't like the attempt at NAIS, National Animal ID Systems, which would have become an unfunded mandate requiring small growers to implant ID chips in all their animals...at their own cost. This looks like the right kind of tack to take. IT's really the lack of inspection and enforcement at plants that's putting people in danger.

Well, that and a fundamental greed and sense of entitlement so insanely overblown that you will allow sick animals to wallow in their own shit to the point that you hae to argue that putting this filthy, suspect ground beef in a giant washing machine with a bunch of ammonia will magically make it into good eatin'.
posted by Miko at 2:29 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oops. Also just realized the "similar legislation" is HR 2749. That was a big deal this summer; it's important legislation, but there was a lot of hysteria about it in the organic/small-scale community, and a lot of it was somewhat overblown. A lot of the rhetoric was teabagger-related, about Fascism and Totalitarian Control Taking Over Farming. A more nuanced view of the HR 2749 is here at Grist (basically saying "no problem, but it doesn't go far enough"), and here is a good breakdown by Food & Water Watch, a good organization. They acknowledge that there are "still concerns" about impacts on small-scale producers. But I would rather deal with those concerns within the Senate process while at the same time developing legislation that puts some actual teeth into the soft, gummy jaws of the FDA when it comes to meat inspection.
posted by Miko at 2:38 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, so what if local organic farmers don't like it? Why is allowing independent farmers to operate more important then food safety? My understanding is that the bill mostly just requires some extra paperwork, such as registering and recording where food is sold. That way, the FDA or CDC or whatever can more quickly trace contamination outbreaks. That's obviously good for trial lawyers, they'll know who to sue. But that's also good for everyone else, dirty operators can get shut down or at least notified of the problems so they can stop doing it. It's still possible for an organic farmer to have their food contaminated with pathogens. Maybe industrial farming is dirtier, but still.
Importantly, FWW informs us, H.R. 2749 would give the FDA to recall suspect food. That’s an important step—and it’s shocking that the agency doesn’t currently have that power. But here’s the catch: the FDA’s purview does not extend to meat. Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the USDA, not the FDA, monitors meat safety. “This means that meat and poultry plants under USDA inspection are not affected by this bill,” FWW writes.
It's worse then that. Back during the Bush administration, the USDA was hardly doing any tests for Mad Cow disease. So one company decided they would just test all their cows and then they could claim that their beef was BSE free.

You think that would be good right, the free market taking care of a problem of government under-regulation? Well no, the USDA actually prevented the company from doing any testing, while at the same time dropping the low percentage of cows they tested even lower. It was an obvious attempt to simply cover up the problem, or perhaps an attempt to protect ranchers who didn't want the hassle.
posted by delmoi at 5:13 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

So creating more ways for companies to break the law would put this lawyer out of business... how?
posted by prefpara at 5:58 PM on November 23, 2009

He's involved in suing companies on behalf of people who are injured or die due to their negligence. Better enforcement and more investigations will presumably lead to more potential contaminations being prevented, fewer people dying, and fewer customers for him.
posted by alexei at 6:27 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

He actually wants to be an undersecretary of Agriculture although his wife thinks he doesn't have the patience for it. (End of the article.)
posted by bearwife at 6:34 PM on November 23, 2009

The problem for organic farmers is not for organic farmers per se as much as it is for small-scale farmers. It just so happens that small-scale farmers are often organically certified. The problem beyond that is the 'one size fits all' approach which is not unique to this particular bill, of course. It may be a great thing for a multimillion dollar spinach operation in California to have more checks in their system, but when you apply those same checks to a two acre diversified vegetable operation that directly serves a farmers market then you end up with stifling bureaucracy that essentially makes it impossible for them to continue to function.

While all producers of food for the public should have health and safety standards, this approach is absolutely ripe for ruining the burgeoning local foods movement. That would be the concern.
posted by limmer at 3:23 PM on November 24, 2009

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