ĎPatience, Hell, Letís Sue Somebodyí
By Dan Gainor
¬†¬†¬†¬† The food police are looking to
take a healthy bite out of corporate America. What is their beef?
They think the food industry is making all of us fat. Are they
recommending we eat less or hit the gym? Not really. Their solution
is lawsuits, of course.
¬†¬†¬†¬† At least they are public about it. But not
too public thanks to the media that gives little attention to this
cottage industry. This past weekend a few dozen health professionals
and the lawyers they love got together in Boston for the 2nd Annual
conference of ďLegal Approaches to the Obesity Epidemic.Ē Donít let
the vagueness of that title fool you. Though the conference focused
on litigation, regulation and taxation, it was the first of those
that drew the most attention.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Heading up the panel entitled,
ďPatience, hell. Letís sue somebody,Ē was George Washington
University law professor John Banzhaf III. Other speakers had
discussed everything from marketing to food addiction. Banzhaf
wasnít so subtle.
¬†¬†¬†¬† After reminding the crowd how helpful the
courts have been in everything from civil rights to environmental
protection to homosexual rights, Banzhaf began ticking off his
laundry list of potential legal targets.
-- Parents Ė especially
during custody hearings;
-- School boards and individual members;
-- Doctors who donít tell obese patients to lose weight.
lawyer on the panel said, ďThe food industry has the mindset of
Enron.Ē If you guessed that they plan to sue everybody in the
industry, you would probably be right.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Itís unfortunate that
lawsuit advocates and the Nanny State donít understand how a free
market works. Heck, itís a concept so simple that even Kevin
Costnerís ďField of DreamsĒ character Ray Kinsella could manage it.
ďIf you build it, he will come.Ē
¬†¬†¬†¬† The food industry certainly
realizes it. According to a Slate article from last September, ďNo
one can specify the size of the Atkins market, but experts estimate
it's at least $1 billion per year.Ē In other words, if customers
want smaller sizes, fewer calories or fewer carbs, the industry will
gladly provide it to them.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Thatís all it takes. No laws. No
regulations. No wild-eyed lawyers chasing ice cream trucks instead
of ambulances. We just need a free market solution with a dash of
personal responsibility thrown in.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Instead, we get a roomful of
people who want to control what industry makes, what they say, what
they sell and what we eat. (And maybe grab a hefty legal fee at the
same time.) Here are just a few nuggets from their discussions:
They want warning labels on soft drinks that warn, ďMay cause
-- They want food labeling in restaurants. They donít mention that
they want to use any discrepancies between the labels and actual
foods as another reason to sue.
-- They support taxes to fight the food industry such as a $1.5
billion levy on soda each year.
-- They back serving free fruits and vegetables in all schools, even
if that costs billions of dollars.
¬†¬†¬†¬† The real message from the
conference is two-fold. The first part is that the left is gunning
for any business involved in food production Ė including ones they
like. Speakers attacked companies from Pepsi to McDonaldís. Even
liberal actor Paul Newman was skewered for his product line because
it uses high fructose corn syrup which isnít ďnaturalĒ (Newman
donates all of the profits from his salad dressings and has given
more than $150 million to charities since 1982). The speakers
targeted whole industries as well as corn growers, the meat
industry, supermarket chains, restaurants, etc.
¬†¬†¬†¬† The other message
came from the media, which was largely absent. It doesnít take a
Microsoft Word document to understand we have a lawsuit crisis in
this country. Unfortunately, a planning session to sue an entire
industry didnít seem exciting enough for most of the major media.
Ironically, the conference achieved in two days what the speakers
damned the food industry for Ė the very thing that makes them
ďworthyĒ of being sued. Speaker after speaker discussed food, showed
advertisements and pictures of Oreos and other tasty snacks, in
effect promoting the products and making us hungry. They also gave
us a large supply of food with cake, muffins and bagels and cream
cheese. (Yes, we had a few healthy items as well, but it wasnít a
tofu fest.) Of course some in the crowd overate. Then, to make
matters worse, they had us sit for hour after hour, just like most
of us do in our day jobs.
¬†¬†¬†¬† I canít speak for my fellow attendees,
but I figure they made me hungry, then gave me too much to eat and
discouraged exercise. In my case, that probably worked out to a
pound or two.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Perhaps, Professor Banzhaf needs help filing a new
class action suit.
(The author, Dan Gainor, is director of the Media Research Centerís Free Market