Fast Food Fight,
CNNfn 6/20/03

John Banzhaf

BYLINE: David Haffenreffer

DAVID HAFFENREFFER, CNNfn ANCHOR, MONEY & MARKETS: Should fast food hamburger chains post health warnings in their restaurants like the kind you find on a pack of cigarettes or perhaps a can of beer. Our next guest seems to think so. George Washington University law professor, John Banzhaf has been leading the fight against the fast food industry calling their fat laden products as addictive as illegal drugs. Mr. Banzhaf is set to attend what is being called the first full scale conference of lawyers and doctors to discuss their strategy and the fight against fast food. He joins us now from Boston to talk about what's at stake and what he hopes to gain from taking on the industry. Welcome tot he program.

JOHN BANZHAF, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Thank you. What I did say is that a major scientific publication based upon about a dozen studies has now concluded that eating a lot of fattening foods can cause addictive-like reactions very similar to nicotine. And indeed there are already two food companies who are issuing a warning. One is called McDonald's (Company: McDonald's Corporation; Ticker: MCD; URL: . In France McDonald's is telling customers don't eat here more than once a week. PepsiCo (Company: PepsiCo Inc.; Ticker: PEP; URL:, which makes Frito-Lay and lots of other so-called junk foods, has said that they will begin warning customers not to eat them too often.

HAFFENREFFER: Here in the US they will be warning the customers?


HAFFENREFFER: Why isn't McDonald's making the same warnings to their American customers?

BANZHAF: Well, that's a good question. I think you ought to pose it to McDonald's. I think they're a little bit afraid of the concept. You may remember that in the early 1980s I suggested that nicotine caused addictive like reactions. People didn't take that very seriously. Tobacco companies never issued warnings about it and in a number of subsequent court cases the court said they could be held liable for failing to tell people about the addictive properties of nicotine even if the dangers of smoking were public knowledge.

HAFFENREFFER: What are you going to try to show if it gets to a courtroom on this front? My sense is it's not going to be about an individual who is now obese as a result of fast food that he or she has eaten over the course of his or her lifetime. We've been cases like this already. How are you going to change the strategy up in a new approach?

BANZHAF: I'm not sure I know what you mean by we've been through it already. There have been seven modern fat cases. Three of them we've won. Two of them we look like we're going to win. One of them is going to be in court this coming week and we're going to be developing a lot of new other strategies to deal with this problem.

HAFFENREFFER: My sense from some of the research is that you're going to have to prove that the fast food outlets knew that their marketing campaigns contributed to over eating and then either did nothing about knowledge or did something, but my sense is that you're thinking they did nothing.

BANZHAF: Well that's one of the reasons why I sent them this letter. We are then putting them on legal notice of these studies relating to addiction. There are quite a number of studies, like every major study I've seen said one of the two major reasons for the sudden epidemic of obesity is not that we've all suddenly lost personal responsibility or parental responsibility but rather the proliferation of fast food restaurants with the ubiquitous and often misleading advertising. They're super sizing, they're failing to disclose the ingredients. These are some of the major causes and we'll hold them liable. Not for all of it, but for their fair share using exactly the same arguments in some cases that were used in regards to tobacco.

HAFFENREFFER: What about that responsibility argument that I'm sure you've heard so often, since undertaking this effort? But obviously we all make a choice on where to eat and where to bring our families to eat. How can a company be held responsible for simply creating a product that is in demand?

BANZHAF: Well, the short answer is that was exactly the same argument which was used so unsuccessfully in dozens of tobacco suits who were winning not just multi million dollar but in some cases million dollar verdicts. The longer answer is if fast food companies don't tell you when you're standing on line trying to order what is in their food, if they know that people are operating under misapprehensions not telling you vital information, which is what the judge in New York suggested, then I think they can be liable. Again, not for the total costs but for their fair share, which may only in an individual case be 10 or 20 percent.

HAFFENREFFER: Stayed tuned. More in this space. John Banzhaf, thanks for being with us today.

BANZHAF: Thank you.