President Biden, ask your FDA leadership to visit a lettuce farm!
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Reprinted by Bill Marler in full without permission from Tim York’s column in The Packer.

Food safety attorney Bill Marler was heavily promoting his appearance a couple weeks ago at the Food and Drug Law Institute conference with posts on social media. In his own publication, Food Safety News, he called on President Biden to have leaders at FDA visit Makayla and Lucas, two children impacted by recent foodborne illness outbreaks associated with leafy greens. Lucas and Marler were also the focus of an older investigative news report that was rerun last weekend by the Canadian Broadcasting Co.

Without question, stories of people — especially children — who’ve been stricken with foodborne illness are difficult to watch. Marler takes full advantage of that in both his FSN column and in the CBC’s investigative news piece. Sadly, neither Marler nor the investigative reporter mentioned anything about efforts of the lettuce industry to prevent outbreaks like those that sickened Lucas.

Let’s face it, Mr. Marler has made a lot of money telling a story in which young children are the victims, lettuce farmers are the villains and he plays the hero. 

To be fair, Bill Marler’s penchant for lawsuits against food businesses has had a real and significant impact on the safety of our food supply. No one wants to get sued and many companies have cleaned up their acts to prevent that from happening.

Also, to his credit, Marler’s participation at the Food and Drug Law Institute’s conference on a panel with Jennifer McEntire of United Fresh Produce Association represents a sincere effort to help bring to light efforts being made by industry to prevent outbreaks.

But wouldn’t it be great if everyone could hear the kind of information Jennifer presented at this conference? Wouldn’t it be beneficial for people to know things like:

  • The last thing lettuce farmers want is for people to get sick from their product.
  • Lettuce farmers in California and Arizona have come together under a stringent food safety program known as the LGMA.
  • Under this program, farmers must follow required food safety practices that are much more stringent than those included under federal food safety laws for other produce items. Required practices include mandatory water testing.
  • Government auditors visit LGMA member farms about four times a year to make sure they are following all required practices.
  • Lettuce farmers are in a cycle of continuous improvement to improve food safety practices on their farms.

Lettuce farmers fund millions of dollars in research to better understand food safety on the farm through the Center for Produce Safety.

Bill Marler and many FDA officials know this. They’ve been to California and Arizona to see the LGMA programs in action. In our personal conversations with them, we’ve received a great deal of positive feedback. But that’s as far as it goes. It’s rare that we hear anyone make a public statement about the efforts of lettuce farmers to end outbreaks.

It’s too bad, because we believe the parents of Lucas Parker should know that since the E. coli outbreak that sickened their son, the California and Arizona leafy greens industry have taken action. It’s because of Lucas that new, even more stringent requirements have been implemented throughout the lettuce industry to make sure water used in farming leafy greens is always safe for use.

Lucas’ parents should also know that lettuce farmers aren’t finished yet. All food safety practices included under our program are being reviewed and updated. This includes additional safety measures to further prevent contamination of leafy greens farms from nearby animals.

California and Arizona lettuce producers are focused on doing everything possible to prevent outbreaks.

We’re happy to open our fields at any time to the president, to any member of his administration, to the media or to Mr. Marler. We want people to see what’s actually happening on a lettuce farm.

It really is important that we begin to change the narrative when it comes to rhetoric about leafy greens food safety. Everyone wants an end to foodborne illnesses. Understanding the facts about what the leafy greens industry is already doing to prevent illness means we can all focus on calculating what additional measures we can take to stop these outbreaks.

Tim York is CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.

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