• China is selling three times as much food in the United States now than it did at the start of this decade.
  • The import value of the food China sells in the United States totaled more than $5.2 billion last year.
  • China has a new food safety law with recall standards for food companies, which must list all additives and imposes harsh fines for violators.
  • The new law was enacted after China had several food contamination outbreaks and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) opened up an office in Beijing.

As those examples illustrate, China’s importance to food safety is why a conference in Beijing coming up in November is on the agendas of both U.S. government officials and the food industry.  The government takes the China International Food Safety & Quality Conference (CIFSQ), postponed from September to Nov. 4th and 5th in Beijing, very seriously.

“The Chinese government attaches great importance to food safety because it is not only in the interest of the Chinese but also people in the world,” says Premier Wen Jiabao, People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The organizers say the conference at Beijing’s Landmark Hotel & Towers “allows you to stay on top of the latest trends and developments.  Whether you are interested in learning about novel intervention, prevention or detection strategies, efficient risk management, science based solutions, innovative food safety management, emerging microbial hazards, harmonization of standards, or capacity building, you’ll find these topics and more on CIFSQ’s 2009 educational program.”

The Seattle law firm Marler Clark is again the Conference’s sole “Platinum ” sponsor.   Food Safety Attorney Bill Marler will once again be among the speakers at the opening session.  We caught up with Marler with a few questions about the event.

You planned to be in China last week for the International Food Safety & Quality Conference and Expo, what happened?

“A few weeks before the event I received notification that the Government of the People’s Republic had canceled the conference and all other Beijing conferences due to the 60th anniversary of the revolution.”

How did you first come to be involved in China generally and this Conference specifically?

“During the Melamine in the pet food problem in 2007 I was told about the conference and contacted the organizers who offered me a keynote speakers slot  – if we would become the Platinum Sponsor for $25,000.”

Was it worth it?

“Absolutely, China is a large and growing food exporter to the world.  They need to get food safety right.  Hearing from those that care about food safety is good for China and good for consumers.”

What were your biggest surprises in participating in the first two conferences? Had you traveled much to China before?

“I had not been to China before.  My biggest surprise – there was not a communist in sight!  This is perhaps the most capitalistic society on earth.”

Do you see any similarities between the American and Chinese legal systems?  Could China produce a trial lawyer for victims of food borne illness like you?

“If you asked that question in 2007, the answer would have been no.  However, after the 2008 melamine in infant milk sickened hundreds of thousands of baby, even the government sees the need to victims to stand up for their rights.  How far the government will allow that to go – we shall see.”

Do you think government officials in China understand the role trial attorneys like you play within our legal system?

“They are beginning to understand that it is a system that allows for focused responsibility.  Instead of protesting in the street, victims have access to the courts.”

This year’s conference looks to be packed with government agencies and food companies from around the world, what message do you think they need to hear?

“They need to understand that food safety does not eat into profits in the long run.  Perceived short-term gain leads to long-term losses.”

Are you going to do anything new and different on this year’s trip to China?

“I am taking my 10-year-old daughter.”