Defending victims of food-borne illnesses - like E. coli -
has been attorney Bill Marler's focus since 1993, now he has a new perspective
on how hauling potentially contaminated loads of produce and the lack of
federal regulations affects truckers.
How long can the produce industry continue to dance around
That's the question famed E. coli attorney Bill Marler posed
to Land Line Magazine when he responded to an article, "Produce industry still
missing the point with self-regulation," posted on Land Line's daily Web news
"To be honest with you, I never realized how wide of a swath
has been impacted by the E. coli outbreak," Marler told Land Line on March 16.
"I didn't even think of the impact on truckers."
The E. coli outbreak in September 2006 piqued the interest
of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, since many produce
haulers were stuck with the financial and logistical responsibilities of
disposing of potentially contaminated spinach. Some were not paid for their
loads that weren't even part of the recall because no regulations are in place
to protect truckers in situations where produce has been recalled.
firm, Marler Clark, based in Seattle, has become one of the nation's foremost
law firms representing victims of food-borne illnesses. His firm is
representing 93 victims of the recent E. coli outbreak, who were sickened after
eating bagged spinach. So far, none of the clients Marler represents have
received a penny, he said. However, a recent Iraq spending bill in Congress
includes a provision that would give $25 million in federal aid to help spinach
growers financially impacted by the E. coli scare, according to a recent article
in The New York Times.
Earlier this week, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
officials admitted that growing practices for fresh fruit and vegetables need
to improve, but said they favor voluntary guidelines that would allow the
produce industry to regulate itself.
Marler agrees with OOIDA leaders who say the FDA isn't doing
enough to ensure consumer confidence in eating leafy greens, and that federal
oversight is needed to protect public health.
"Without some uniform standards that are applicable to
everybody and more rigorous oversight, this is going to happen again," Marler
said. "It still kind of perplexes me when I go to these hearings and I listen
to shippers and growers and hear them say they want a voluntary marketing
agreement - basically dancing around regulation.
"But, they never really articulate a clear reason why they
don't want it. They are basically telling everybody publicly that they want it
strictly enforced, but they want to enforce it themselves, and I think it's
kind of gone past that."
Marler began litigating food-borne illness cases in 1993,
when he represented victims of the highly publicized Jack-in-the-Box E. coli
O157:H7 hamburger outbreak. His litigation helped change the United States
Department of Food and Agriculture's meat-inspection procedures.
E. coli contamination in meat is down almost 80 percent
because of stringent USDA inspection procedures now in place, but the same
stringent procedures must be applied to the produce industry, he said.
"Until the produce industry realizes they must change their
practices and stop dancing around regulation, I am going to continue to take
money from them," Marler said. "All I have to do is prove their products make
- By Clarissa
Kell-Holland, staff writer