Excerpts from: IS IT YOUR FAULT I'M FAT?
US CONGRESS HEARS DEBATE
The Economic Times June 21, 2003
WASHINGTON: Whose fault is it if you are fat? Yours, or the food
industry's? A US House of Representatives panel heard emotional testimony
on Thursday about a proposed law aimed at protecting restaurants against
lawsuits from people who blame fast-food marketing for their obesity.
Critics say it would put the food industry in a special, protected
But two lawyers told the hearing that such protection is not necessary.
"If, as the industry repeatedly claims, these fat law suits are truly frivolous,
the industry needs no Congressional protection," said John
Banzhaf, a professor of law at George Washington University, whose
1970s crusades against the tobacco industry helped get cigarette commercials
off the air.
"Numerous articles and reports show that the threat of fat lawsuits has
already forced many food companies to begin making
significant changes likely to reduce obesity such as healthier menu alternatives,
better ingredient disclosure, appropriate warnings, etc."
McDonald's is fighting a lawsuit alleging the company promoted its calorie-laden
as being nutritious enough to eat every day. Victor Schwartz, head of the
public policy group of the law firm Shook, Hardy and Bacon, and general counsel
of the American Tort Reform Association, said it would be hard for a plaintiff
to prove a restaurant caused his obesity.
"First, if traditional rules are followed, the plaintiff is going to have
to show that it is more probable than not that his or her obesity was caused
by food, not by failure to exercise
or other lifestyle choices, or genetics," he said.
"Second, the plaintiff will have to show that one specific purveyor of
food caused his injury."
The World Health Organization says obesity is a growing epidemic across
the world. Two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, with
a higher risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Advocacy groups say restaurants need to be forced into more clearly labeling
their foods so people know just how
fattening they are, and should make portions smaller.
"Representative Keller simply wants to pre-emptively take an entire industry
off the hook, and make restaurants and food companies a special, protected
class -- immune from the scrutiny of judges or juries," said Michael Jacobson,
director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.