Seattle attorney William Marler gave a speech last Wednesday regarding foodborne illness law as a part of the Washington State University Common Reading Program.


The Common Reading Program chooses a different book each year that freshmen are required to read, and then is incorporated into their general education classes. This year’s book was The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.


marler-wsu-speech-featured.jpgAs a part of the common reading program, speeches that relate to the topic of the chosen book are given throughout that year. Thanks to a donation to the university by Marler, Pollan visited Pullman last month to speak at WSU; over 4,000 students, faculty, and community members attended.


Marler, an alumnus and former WSU Regent, was asked to come speak about his profession in food litigation. He wanted to set the record straight about what some people call “ambulance chasers”. He presented a slide show that featured several of his key cases, such as the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in 1992. Marler presented evidence that supported his case against Jack in Box in a slideshow.


In an effort to make an impact on students’ thinking about foodborne illnesses, Marler showed videos of people’s lives before and after contracting a foodborne illness and how their lives had changed for the worse. Looking around the room, you could see disbelief on students’ faces. Many people didn’t realize the effect an illness such as E. coli or Hepatitis A could have on not only the person with the illness, but on those around them.


“The reality is food borne illnesses have a real impact. There are real people behind these illnesses,” Marler said.


Towards the end of his speech, Marler posed several questions for students to think about. He asked students and faculty both to consider how we can stop the prevalence of foodborne illness. Each year, a quarter of Americans are sickened by a foodborne illness. The economic cost of foodborne illness totals $152 billion annually.


Marler gave a list of things he believes could change the system–which in turn would lower the occurrence of foodborne illness. He discussed improving surveillance of corporations to improving consumer understanding of food safety issues. “Consumers need to be smarter with their food choices,” Marler said. “It’s not easy eating in America today.”


Marler shares his views on food safety, foodborne illness outbreaks, and food litigation on his blog.