Gene Grabowski and John
Banzhaf debate fast food lawsuits.
CNN LIVE SUNDAY 16:00 June 22, 2003 Sunday
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Now to America's obesity problem. Who is
to blame? Some top legal eagles are meeting this weekend to talk about whether
the food industry is addicting people, children in particular, to fatty foods.
To talk about what comes next, I'm joined by John
Banzhaf, a public interest lawyer who battled a big tobacco case in
court. Also joining us is Gene Grabowski of the Grocery Manufacturers of
America. Good to see both of you, gentleman.
Well, John, let me begin with you. Why should any consumer pursue the food
industry for blaming them for consuming foods that may eventually be bad
BANZHAF, PUBLIC INTEREST LAWYER: Well, Fredricka, what we're doing
is planning to use the same kind of very broad style legal attacks which
we used so successfully against the problem of smoking, now against the problem
of obesity. There is seven such suits so far. Three we've won; one is going
to court in several days. In that one, the judge said that if McDonald's,
which is the defendant in that case, misled people regarding the amount of
fat, for example, in their chicken McNuggets, then they can be liable, a
liability. We're not saying that the fast food industry or the food industry
is solely liable or should be responsible for all of it, but as we maintained
very successfully in the tobacco cases, often there is shared responsibility,
and the industry should bear their fair share of $120 billion a year.
WHITFIELD: Well, John, let me ask you why you see there's similarity with
the tobacco fight, when particularly in terms of food there are so many more
choices in which people can make. They don't have to reach for the fattier
foods, which these days -- isn't everyone a little more knowledgeable about
what is considered fatty foods, what is considered better for you, leaner,
BANZHAF: Well, therein lies the problem. When you stand in line at McDonald's
or Burger King or Wendy's, you don't know how much fat or how much calories
are in each of those meals. Many people apparently believe that if they
get the chicken McNuggets or the fish, it is lower in fat, so one of the
charges is that McDonald's doesn't reveal in a clear and conspicuous matter
-- not buried on a Web site somewhere, but where you're needed, what's in
their food. That's the point.
WHITFIELD: All right, Gene, let me allow you to weigh in on this. How is
it the food industry could be making it a little bit more clear for consumers
so they know exactly what they are getting?
GENE GRABOWSKI, GROCERY MANUFACTURERS OF AMERICA: Well, the food industry
has been doing this for decades now. I mean, if you go into certainly in
a grocery store, restaurants are getting better at this.
I think that you made a key point, Fredricka, and that is there's a wide
variety of choice available. Also, one of the accusations here is that somehow
people are becoming addicted. And that's just irresponsible and unjust.
Food is delicious. Anybody will agree with you that it's nice to eat food,
and you know, taste is everything, but it stimulates parts of the brain that
are pleasure centers, just as when you exercise or when you do a good job
on a speech. But the road that these lawyers are taking is really irresponsible.
WHITFIELD: Well, Gene...
BANZHAF: Excuse me, I was accused of being irresponsible. The allegation
that fast-food can cause addictive like results in the brain just like nicotine
comes from respective science magazine, based upon more than a dozen studies
in which animals have, in fact, been addicted. We're suggesting not that
it's conclusively proven, but that there is enough evidence that it might
warrant a warning of the kind you frequently see, saying for example, several
animal studies suggest that X causes cancer. It's not irresponsible.
WHITFIELD: John, let me interrupt for a moment. Gene, let me ask you this.
How much more information should these food manufactures, food preparers
provide to consumers so that consumers can be a bit more educated about exactly
what they are getting?
GRABOWSKI: Well, you already see it on labels in supermarkets, grocery stores,
and what have you on food that is sold...
WHITFIELD: But when you go to a fast-food restaurant you don't necessarily
get the same kind of labels.
GRABOWSKI: That's right. And you'll be seeing more of that. You'll see a
wide variety of choices. We are already seeing that in a lot of the quick-service
restaurants around the country and around the world. So I think the marketplace
is deciding. And that's the place for it to be done. The consumer has to
have a choice, the consumer has to have more information to make those choices,
and the industry is moving in that direction.
The lawsuits are a distraction; they are a sideshow. They will not lead
to a solution to the obesity problems.
WHITFIELD: But you do see that with these lawsuits, it is going to spawn
GRABOWSKI: Not necessarily, we'll see what happens.
BANZHAF: ... and in fact, all the articles are suggesting that these changes
Mr. Grabowski is talking about come because of the pressure and threat of
lawsuits, not because these companies have suddenly gotten better.
GRABOWSKI: Well, we've made changes before there were lawsuits, Dr. Banzhaf.
The food industry succeeds because it wants to have healthy, happy consumers,
and it meets those consumer needs. And that's what decides, the marketplace,
not the sideshow of accusations and lawsuits.
I was a news reporter for a long time before I joined the food industry,
and we used to have a saying, that if you torture the data long enough, it
will tell you anything you want it to. And the studies that are being promoted
of suspicious sources that trial lawyers want to tout as some kind of warning
BANZHAF: Bottom line, we have won three of the lawsuits, we're very close
to winning two more, and one goes to court next week. That's the facts.
WHITFIELD: All right. John Banzhaf and Gene Grabowski,
I'll let you gentlemen have the last few words on that. Thanks very much.
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