3.25.2015

Food Issues Book Club: Appetite for Profit, Chapter 12

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Appetite for Profit, Chapter 12: Scapegoating Lawyers

Summary:

A CCF print ad that manages to be
fearmongering, fat-shaming,
AND lawyer-shaming.
In the grand old tradition of bad actors always and everywhere, the food industry would rather create rules to protect itself than to change its harmful (profitable) ways.  This tendency was shown clearly in the mid-2000s, when a series of federal and state bills was proposed with the purpose of shielding food companies from any liability for its customers becoming obese or otherwise unhealthy.  As of 2006, 21 states (including Louisiana) had enacted laws that banned obesity-related lawsuits.  "[W]hile food companies are busy proclaiming how much they want to be a part of the solution, behind the scenes, they are lobbying to protect themselves... ."

These anti-obesity-lawsuit laws are both unnecessary and telling, based as they are on an imaginary foe.  Frivolous lawsuits - those without any real legal grounds - are already disallowed and can lead to sanctions against lawyers who bring them.  Despite what groups such as the Center for Consumer Freedom may claim, there is not in fact an "army of greedy trial lawyers" from whom the industry needs protection.  As such, the laws have been called "a solution in search of a problem."

"If food companies are so worried about becoming targets of lawsuits, why don't they change their business practices to act more responsibly?"  That is the million-dollar question.

Discussion:

I've worked with attorneys for nearly a decade now, and one thing is universally true whether they're at a firm making money$$$$$ or at a non-profit doing good: they do not - I repeat, DO NOT - file cases that they can't win.  They certainly don't file cases that are actually frivolous per the law - that's the kind of thing you lose your license over.

Of course one (now-notorious) case was filed in 2002 against McDonald's.  A class action on behalf of several ill children, the case was less about obesity than about deceptive advertising, obfuscation, and accountability.  The case was dismissed in 2003 not because it was frivolous but because "the plaintiffs had failed to show that McDonald's engaged in deceptive practices and that consumers had inadequate access to information about McDonald's products."  The case was appealed and remanded (sent back to the court in which it was originally heard), and ultimately was "voluntarily dismissed with prejudice" in 2011 which frankly I don't understand.  But it was never ruled to be frivolous.

Another case was filed in 2012, specifically about the inclusion of toys in HappyMeals; it too was dismissed - but not because it was found to be frivolous.  The lawyers at McD's who throw around that word know what they're doing - they know that it has a different meaning in the legal world than in general discourse.  I'd love to see them sanctioned for it.

As for Louisiana's so-called "Commonsense Consumption Act" (Act 158 from the 2003 legislative session, in state law as LA Rev Stat § 9:2799.6), wouldn't it be great to get that repealed?  Just to send the message to food companies that they are liable for the products they sell, just like tobacco companies and asbestos companies before them?  Perhaps someone can work on it for the next legislative session.  For policy dorks, please take note that ALEC provides a model CCA on its website - that should tell you something about its true intent.

No comments:

Post a Comment