On Friday, June 10, every member of Congress will receive a copy of the newly released book Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. Coli Outbreak that Changed the Way Americans Eat. The books are supplied courtesy of food safety attorney Bill Marler, who hopes to spur lawmakers to fund The Food Modernization Act and improve U.S. food safety systems. Marler is asking that the books be donated to public libraries in the home states of the recipients once finished, as they are not intended to be gifts.
The book, by best-selling author Jeff Benedict, chronicles events surrounding the infamous 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. At the time little was known about the deadly pathogen, and as a young lawyer, Marler (one of the book’s central figures) waded through uncharted legal waters as he represented children made gravely ill in the outbreak.
In 1994 E. coli O157:H7 was declared an adulterant in ground beef; however, almost 20 years later, and in the middle of an E. coli O104:H4 outbreak in Europe, Marler wants officials to do more to improve food safety. “Just read the first chapter of this book and tell me you don’t believe food safety is an important issue,” said Marler. “The truth is that we’ve come a long way since 1993, but there is still progress to be made and far too much politicking involved in food issues.”
Benedict agrees. “Personally, this book was one of the most difficult I’ve written, and the story truly invoked a paradigm shift in myself and my family,” he said. “Politically speaking, it doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you sit on, you can’t help but become affected by this story.”
Marler also sent books to the President and First Lady, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Undersecretary Elisabeth Hagen, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor.
“The people who oversee food safety in business and government should be the first ones to pick up a copy of Poisoned,” added Marler. “It can be easy to grow detached from the issues you work on day to day. I think this book serves as a stark reminder to food safety leaders that they don’t work for numbers and statistics – they work for people who elected them and buy the food they produce.”
The effort comes in the midst of a European E. coli outbreak that has become the most deadly in history, sickening over 2,500 and killing over 25. The E. coli strain involved, O104:H4, is different that the infamous O157:H7 strain that has plagued the U.S. in the past 20 years and is not currently regulated by U.S. food safety agencies.
“I’ve petitioned the USDA to regulate non-O157 E. coli, but my calls to action seem to be stalled in the Office of Management and Budget,” said Marler. “The situation in Germany is a warning sign complete with flashing lights and sirens. If we’d like to avoid this kind of crisis in the future here I suggest the government take swift action.”
JEFF BENEDICT is an investigative journalist and best-selling author of Little Pink House and Without Reservation. Poisoned is available now wherever books are sold.