Marler on Hagen
February 2, 2010
by Steve Bjerklie
One of the meat industry’s most respected yet sharpest and, arguably, its most litigious, critics says he is “hopeful” about the nomination of Dr. Elisabeth Hagen to the crucial post of undersecretary of agriculture for food safety.
“I am very hopeful she will do the kind of job that needs to be done,” attorney Bill Marler told MEATPOULTRY.com. “Like a lot of people, I am certainly looking forward to working with her.”
Marler and his firm, MarlerClark in Seattle, Wash., have successfully sued the industry dozens of times in food-safety and, in particular, E. coli cases. He first made his name in food-safety litigation by successfully negotiating a huge settlement with the Jack in the Box chain following the outbreak of E. coli traced to Jack in the Box outlets in 1993. Since then he has been at the forefront of virtually every case involving E. coli adulteration of U.S. food.
Dr. Hagen, who had been teaching and practicing medicine as an infectious disease specialist before joining USDA in 2006 and eventually becoming the Department’s chief medical officer, is the first medical doctor to be nominated for an executive-level food-safety position at USDA. “I think having a medical doctor in this position makes a lot of sense,” said Marler, who added that he doesn’t know Dr. Hagen personally. “The clear mission of FSIS is a public-health mission.” He said he thinks career-level employees at FSIS, who are crucial in implementing effective regulations, “will give her their full support.”
The previous undersecretary for food safety, Dr. Richard Raymond, has become a vocal critic of certain USDA policies, and has been especially critical of the long time it has taken the Obama Administration to name a new undersecretary. “I think that toward the end of his term, Richard was beginning to understand the job and what really needs to be done,” said Marler. “Since he left office he’s been very outspoken – surprisingly outspoken, in fact – about it.”
As reported this week by the Washington Post, Dr. Hagen is the Administration’s third choice for the USDA position. Dr. Michael Doyle had been the first choice, “but the day before the announcement was to be made in May, his nomination collapsed. The White House wanted Doyle to divest his financial interest in a patented microbial wash for meat that he had developed. Doyle offered to defer his interests until his government service was completed but the Administration refused,” the Post reported. A second choice, according to the newspaper, was Carolyn Smith DeWaal, the director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who is often considered the industry’s best-informed critic. But she was ruled out because she’s a registered lobbyist, violating the Administration’s policy against hiring lobbyists for policy-making positions.
Marler’s own name had appeared on several speculative lists for the job. “I don’t know who was first, second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth choice,” he told MEATPOULTRY.com. “The bottom line is Dr. Hagen is the president’s pick.”