A February 2, 2015, New Yorker article following the career of plaintiffs’ attorney Bill Marler examines how litigation has shaped the food-safety landscape in the absence of robust regulatory oversight.
Viewing the U.S. inspection and recall system through the lens of a 2013 Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak that reportedly sickened an estimated 18,000 people, Wil Hylton interviews Marler as well as current and former federal officials about the complicated evolution and sometimes contradictory mandates of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other agencies responsible for food safety.
In particular, the article notes that many regulators credited Marler with changing the role of lawsuits in food policy. “Where people typically thought of food safety as this three-legged stool—the consumer groups, the government and the industry—Bill sort of came in as a fourth leg and actually was able to effect changes in a way that none of the others really had,” Robert Brackett, former director of the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, tells Hylton.
Tracking Marler as he moves “from litigation to activism,” the article points to his work with consumer groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest as well as an online newsletter underwritten by the attorney. As the number of foodborne E. coli cases continue to wane since USDA declared the pathogen an adulterant, Marler has evidently turned his attention to chicken producers and products as the agency hashes out new regulations for reducing Salmonella contamination.
“Fifteen years ago, almost all the cases I had were E. coli linked to hamburger, and now I have maybe two or three,” Marler is quoted as saying. “It shows how much progress we’ve made. You might hate lawyers, you might not want us to make money, but look what the beef industry did. Ground beef has learned its lesson—but chicken is still, in many respects, unregulated. So we have to keep fighting.”