3/3/2009 7:49:00 AM

Jolley: Will There Be One Food Inspection Service?

Source of Article:  http://www.cattlenetwork.com/Content.asp?ContentID=295373

 

If you’re in the meat business, you know you have to deal with the FSIS.  Most people in the meat business, though, would like to think they’re in the food business, an admirable expansion of your business model and product lines that moves you directly into the tenuous (over)sight of the F.D.A. 

 

I’ll resist saying anything about their administrative sight needing some serious help from a qualified ophthalmologist.  Or maybe it was just a peanut allergy that affected their vision?

 

One of the real problems for the food industry has always been trying to produce a good product while satisfying those two federal task masters, even if they are so overworked, understaffed and underfunded that they don’t show up that often.  Or, in a few spectacular cases, they never show up at all.

 

Rumblings from the Obama administration seem to indicate a move in the general direction of the often-discussed-but-never-achieved one food inspection agency.  The F.D.A. could become twin organizations separated at birth, becoming the Food Administration and its semi-conjoined twin, the Drug Administration.  Maybe a newly formed F.A. might be forced to hold bureaucratic hands with the F.S.I.S. to create a single, large food safety entity with some serious clout?

 

In the often political dream world of Washington, I’m not sure if it will come to pass.  Even so, Bill Marler, one of the strongest advocates of an improved system of oversight, has some definite ideas about making the system work better.  Marler, A partner in a Seattle law firm that’s made a specialty out of conducting legal suits tied to food-borne illnesses, is campaigning hard, too, for a spot in the new administration.  He wants to put his opinions to good use in a place outside his customary scary lair: a U.S. court room with a seriously ill child by his side facing off with a food company that’s recalled contaminated product.

 

I interviewed Mr. Marler about the current spate of recalls a few weeks ago.  Click here to read his comments.  This past Sunday, he wrote a guest editorial for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution outlining his ideas about curtailing the food borne illnesses caused by Salmonella at Peanut Corporation of America and E. coli in ground beef and a long list of other pathogens that could only make a Latin teacher proud.

 

Because what he said could have a direct impact on the way you’ll be conducting your business – wherever you are in the gate-to-plate distribution of beef – I asked for permission to reproduce his editorial.

 

ISSUE IN-DEPTH: FOOD SAFETY: Ways to make industry safer

 

This column is solicited to provide another viewpoint to an AJC editorial published today.

 

By William D. Marler

 

For the Journal-Constitution

 

Sunday, March 01, 2009

 

After a brief lull a few years ago, we’re seeing a sweeping increase in outbreaks of salmonella, E. coli and other food-borne contaminants.  There are many reasons for this ugly trend: businesses more focused on sales than safety, fragmented government agencies, inadequate inspection of foods, poorly educated food handlers and lack of consumer awareness, to name a few.  The reality is that we now live in a global food supply and we need to come up with global solutions that leverage our scientific and technological capabilities to prevent human illness and death.

 

I’m a food-borne illness lawyer, but I would be happy to be put out of business; happier still to never have to set foot in a pediatric ICU again.  Here are some ideas how:

 

1. Improve surveillance of bacterial and viral diseases.  First responders —- ER physicians and local doctors —- need to be encouraged to test for pathogens and report findings directly to local and state health departments and the CDC promptly.

 

2. Federal, state and local governmental departments need to learn to “play well together.”  That means resources need to be provided and coordination encouraged.

 

3. Require real training and certification of food handlers at restaurants and grocery stores.  There also should be incentives for sick employees to stay home when ill.

 

4. Stiffen license requirements for large farm, retail and wholesale food outlets, so that nobody gets a license until they and their employees have shown they understand the hazards.

 

5. Reform federal, state and local agencies to make them more proactive, and less reactive.  We need to modernize food safety statutes by replacing the existing collection of often conflicting laws and regulation with one uniform food safety law.

 

6. There are too few legal consequences for sickening or killing customers by selling contaminated food in the U.S.  We should impose stiff fines and prison sentences for violators and even stiffer penalties for repeat violators.

 

7. Promote university research to develop better technologies to make food safe and for testing foods for contamination.

 

This may seem like a lot for a busy administration to chew on, but according to the CDC, every year nearly a quarter of our population is sickened, 350,000 hospitalized and 5,000 die, because of what they ate.  Many are children.  Eaters are also voters —- and parents. Our politicians should do the math.

 

William D. Marler is a trial lawyer with Marler Clark in Seattle.

 

Bottom Line:  Regardless of whether or not a forced marriage of various food inspection agencies happens, the way you operate your business will change.

 

 

 

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