After a string of successful prosecutions of food industry managers and executives, the defense bar is getting ready to bite back. The teeth are showing in the title of an upcoming web seminar: “Do Criminal Prosecutions Make Food Safer? The Problem with Regulating Food Safety Through Criminalization.” The seminar is being organized by the Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) with help from the McGuire Woods and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher law firms. Speakers are scheduled to include:

  • logo Washington Legal FoundationAlex J. Brackett, partner with McGuire Woods in Richmond, VA. He is a member of the firm’s Government Investigations and White Collar Litigation unit.
  • James F. Neale, partner with McGuire Woods in Charlottesville, VA. A trial lawyer, he is focused on food-related litigation, including foodborne illnesses.
  • David Debold, partner with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington D.C. He is a litigator involved in white collar, regulatory enforcement and appellate issues.

According to the web seminar invitation, which can be obtained here, the event will run from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Oct. 12. Registration is free. The WLF is a public interest law firm based in Washington D.C. Formed in 1977, it has litigated more than 1,000 cases in federal courts on behalf of free enterprise principles. It is also a think tank and producer of educational events, including web seminars. The event comes less than two weeks after the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a U.S. District Court decision to allow corporate officials to be jailed for misdemeanor convictions without having to prove intent. The decision came in the cases involving Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son Peter DeCoster, whose eggs sickened as many at 56,000 people with Salmonella in 2010. The DeCoster-owned Quality Egg LLC was, prior to 2010, thought to be America’s largest egg producer. After a lengthy investigation, the father and son pleaded guilty to allowing adulterated and misbranded eggs to reach the marketplace, and each agreed to pay a $100,000 fine. The DeCosters, however, objected to the three-month jail terms also imposed by federal Judge Mark W. Bennett because, they said, their convictions came without “mens rea,” meaning proof of a guilty mind  or intent. Having lost their appeal for rehearing, they will soon join a recent string of food industry executives who have gone to jail after convictions related to outbreaks of foodborne illness. “The use of criminal-enforcement tools in the wake of recent food safety incidents reflects government’s persistent focus on prosecution to regulate business conduct,” according to the seminar materials. “The direct and collateral consequences of criminal investigations engender unique risks for corporations, their executive leadership, and their brands’ reputations. Our speakers will discuss how the threat of criminal enforcement actions against companies and individuals impacts every level of the nation’s food supply, and how we can apply lessons learned in this context to develop preemptive and responsive strategies to minimize and mitigate risk across industries and business settings.” (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)