I’m often asked if I have heard the latest lawyer jokes. “No,” is my usual response. When it comes to attorneys, therearen’tmany jokes – mostly only true stories.
Unfortunately, the same holds true for food safety and the law. Few of the stories we read about today, whether they involve controlling new and emerging pathogens, complying with new food safety regulations, surviving the uptick in federal inspections and enforcement actions, or defeating an increasing number high-profile foodborne illness lawsuits, can be characterized as laughing matters.
The fact is, each of us has chosen to associate ourselves with an industry whose products quite literally affect the health and security of a nation. And with this choice, we subject ourselves to enormous responsibility, wide-ranging criticism, comprehensive regulation and continuous oversight.
Just hearken back to 1906, for instance, when Upton Sinclair published his controversial novel which was highly critical of the food industry. The federal government quickly responded with new legislation which, for the first time, would mandate continuous federal inspection in meat slaughter plants. On June 23, 1906, as the bill was debated, Senator Joseph Bailey (of Texas) was quoted as saying:
“Whatever may be said about the origin of this controversy and wherever the blame should be placed, there can absolutely be no doubt that nothing but a drastic [new] law can now rescue the beef industry . . . and give the public confidence in what they eat.”
Sound familiar? Well, shortly thereafter, Congress passed both the Wholesome Meat Act and the Pure Food and Drugs Act. These Acts (along with their successors) formed the basis of a national food safety policy which has fed our nation for more than a century.
And, one need only read the latest news stories and blogs to understand that the rules, regulations and policies that have been issued since continue to feed – in many ways – our regulatory and trial lawyers today. Thus, both lawyers and pathogens continue to persist.
So, what does this mean for the food industry? Well, despite creating one of the safest food supplies in the world, we will continue to be confronted with new and emerging challenges relating to food safety and naturally occurring pathogens. New challenges will trigger enhanced scrutiny, more regulation and additional laws. And, where there are laws, there will always be lawyers.
Recognizing there is no easy way to eliminate pathogens and attorneys (and the unique challenges they create), we will instead embrace our synergies, and work together to help you provide food that not only passes the scrutiny of the most astute consumer, but also the most obnoxious lawyer.
Next column: the Food Safety Modernization Act for Dummies – Compliance made simple.