Food fight

Despite some American lawyer's trumpeting of success in fat lawsuits, U.S. plaintiffs have never won a successful jury verdict or judgment in an obesity lawsuit, say observers.

Unbeknownst to consumers, what some lawyer's term "successful" lawsuits against the food industry are really frivolous lawsuits that have been played up in the media and have nothing to do with obesity:

  • One suit involved a group of vegetarian and Hindu students who sued McDonald's over the natural beef flavouring in their French fries, which they'd believe were cooked in 100 percent vegetable oil; it was settled out of court for $10 million, with another $2.5 million going to the lawyers.

  • Another concerned mislabelled nutritional information on a low-fat Pirate's Booty snack.

  • And a third against Kraft for their Oreo cookies was a publicity stunt by a lawyer who dropped the suit the following week once the transfat scare had saturated the media.

    Other recent cases with claims of triumph are equally bogus:

  • A Florida case, which settled out of court, concerned a mislabelled ice cream product (everyone in the class action got coupons for more ice cream).

  • A Kentucky man was given a 15-month prison sentence for mail fraud for repackaging and shipping baked goods with misleading nutrition labels.

    In response to these litigations against the food industry, Representative Ric Keller (Rebublican, Florida) has introduced the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act (HR 339), designed to prevent such frivolous lawsuits. The bill would forbid civil suits in both federal and state course that hold food manufacturers, distributors, or restaurateurs responsible for obesity or other supposed effects of eating their food.

    Source: Sandy Szwarc, Food Fight: Up Against the Wall, Burger Man! USA Next, Volume 1, Number 1, United Seniors Association.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin\17 February 2004

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