Prof. John F. Banzhaf III Appears
on NBC-TV's Today Show
to DiscussLaw Suits Aimed at the Epidemic of Obesity
Thursday, June 19, 2003
Profile: Professor John Banzhaf, George Washington University, Rick Berman,
executive director, Center for Consumer Freedom, debate whether fast-food
restaurants must post warnings that the fatty foods they serve may be addictive
MATT LAUER, co-host: But before we get to that, today six major fast-food
chains, including McDonald's, Wendy's, and Pizza Hut, will receive letters
asking them to post warnings that the fatty foods they serve may be addictive.
George Washington University law professor, John Banzhaf, who laid the groundwork
in the successful litigation against tobacco companies, is making these new
claims about fast-food. Rick Berman is the executive director of the Center
of Consumer Freedom, representing the restaurant and food industry.
Gentlemen, good morning to both of you.
Professor JOHN BANZHAF (George Washington University): Morning.
Mr. RICK BERMAN (Executive Director, Center for Consumer Freedom): Morning.
LAUER: Professor, let me start with you. I--I'll talk about the--the fact
that fatty foods may or may not be addictive in a second. But why target
fast-food chains only? I can get a burger in a supermarket. I can get french
fries in a fine fretch--French restaurant.
Prof. BANZHAF: Because every study which I have seen suggests that the fast-food
restaurants are one of the two major causes of this epidemic of obesity we
have which costs the American public almost $120 billion a year, much of
which is paid by people who are not obese.
LAUER: Yeah, but...
Prof. BANZHAF: These are the big ones. If they start warning, people will
get the word.
LAUER: But there's a personal responsibility issue here. When someone walks
into a fast-food restaurant, they could buy a salad, or they could buy a
chicken sandwich. They don't have to buy the high-fatty foods.
Prof. BANZHAF: They certainly can. That's exactly the argument that was used
in the tobacco industry cases, and it was uniformly rejected. We're winning
many of these cases, winning multi-million-dollar verdicts; we're not saying,
by the way, that there isn't personal responsibility. What we're suggesting
is that the fast-food companies should have some responsibility, pay their
fair share of those costs.
LAUER: Mr. Berman, how do you feel about this?
Mr. BERMAN: Well, firstly, the surgeon general came out last week and said
that there is no such thing as bad foods. And John wants to keep saying that
there is such a thing as addictive bad foods. He--he filed his first case,
which was laughed out of the court of public opinion, suggesting that McDonald's
sold the food too cheaply and that's how come his--his client got too fat.
When that thing was--was considered dead, they filed another case, which
is actually on life support. And that case is now claiming, based on actually
no scientific evidence at all, that there is an addictive quality to food.
One of his references is a doctor who's--who heads an organization that's
been censured by the American Medical Association as being irresponsible.
LAUER: And that doctor basically suggests that there's a possibility that
fatty foods react in your body the same way nicotine or even heroin does.
Mr. BERMAN: This doctor says that cheese on a cracker is like morphine on
a cracker, and this is what he's using as evidence. He's also got a magazine
article from a publication which is not a scientific journal, it's more like
Popular Mechanics, that says that food is addictive. And John is...
Mr. BERMAN: ...filing lawsuits on this stuff...
Mr. BERMAN: ...throwing everything...
Prof. BANZHAF: Matt...
Mr. BERMAN: ...he can up against...
Mr. BERMAN: ...the wall.
LAUER: ...if I believe...
Prof. BANZHAF: If I can...
LAUER: ...Mr. Berman, you...
Prof. BANZHAF: ...interrupt for just a minute.
LAUER: Yeah, sure. If I belive Mr. Berman, you don't have a very strong case.
Why don't you defend it.
Prof. BANZHAF: Well, part of it is that he's going to be coming to Congress
in about two hours and asking for protection from exactly these lawsuits.
McDonald's lost the first fat lawsuit that we filed. There are two other
fat lawsuits which have already been won. That's why they're seeking protection
Mr. BERMAN: Matt...
Prof. BANZHAF: Now also the...
Mr. BERMAN: ...Matt, McDonald's hasn't lost...
Prof. BANZHAF: I am not saying...
LAUER: Listen, let the professor talk.
Prof. BANZHAF: ...that these are addictive, these...
LAUER: Mr. Berman, let the professor answer you...
Mr. BERMAN: Sure.
LAUER: ...then I'll come back to you.
Mr. BERMAN: Sure.
Prof. BANZHAF: There are about a dozen scientific studies in major reputable
journals which lead to the conclusion from the New Scientist magazine that
indeed fatty foods can cause the same kind of addictive reaction as nicotine.
If anybody wants to read it, it's on my Web site, banzhaf.net
LAUER: Yeah, but can...
Prof. BANZHAF: You can look at the...
LAUER: ...Professor, can...
Prof. BANZHAF: ...Web site and the...
LAUER: I go...
Prof. BANZHAF: ...scientific magazine.
LAUER: I--I go to a--a fast-food restaurant every once in a while. I have
a--a burger and fries. And you know what? I don't have to go back for a month.
Prof. BANZHAF: That's right.
LAUER: It's not like I'm drawn back to it.
Prof. BANZHAF: It's only if people eat it frequently, particularly children.
Children who eat very frequently are much more likely to become addicted
and get fat.. We find that young rats, if they are fed a diet of fat, almost
always become fat when they're older. We have rats who are literally in withdrawal
from being fed too much fat. So there's a lot of evidence. We're not saying
it's definitely true. What we're suggesting is that people should be on notice.
Let them investigate the evidence, reach their own conclusion...
LAUER: Well, but--but...
Prof. BANZHAF: ...then they can exercise their per...
LAUER: Mr. Berman...
Prof. BANZHAF: ...personal responsibility to decide what to do.
Mr. BERMAN: Yes, sir.
LAUER: He's saying it's not necessarily true. He thinks people should be
on notice. But don't discussions like this put people on notice? Don't we
read things like this in newspapers every day?
Prof. BANZHAF: That's only one.
LAUER: Shouldn't people know this by now?
Prof. BANZHAF: That's once.
Mr. BERMAN: John...
Prof. BANZHAF: It'll be gone.
Mr. BERMAN: ...John just does not...
LAUER: Let me go to Mr. Berman.
Mr. BERMAN: John just does not want to believe in common sense. In fact,
he's been on TV suggesting that most of his clients are too stupid to understand
this and that they need warnings and labels. They don't understand the difference
between a milk shake and a diet soda. The fact is that most of these ca--most
of these cases are thrown out. And John has not won one single case that
has anything to do with obesity. He throws all sorts of cases in the mix,
suggesting that cases have been lost on obese--regarding an obese client,
and there has not been one.
LAUER: Mr. Berman...
Mr. BERMAN: And John knows it.
LAUER: ...you differentiate between fast-food and what you call something
that causes instantaneous injury. Can you explain that briefly?
Mr. BERMAN: Well, John says you need warnings just like you need warnings
on ladders or on electrical appliances. And I will grant you that there are
certain products in society where you do get an instantaneous injury, and
so people won't be on notice. But today, if people are getting fat from eating
too much food, any kind of food, they've got a warning, and it's called the
mirror. And when you look in the mirror and you see that you're gaining too
much weight, most people with an IQ above room temperature can figure out
to stop eating so much food or to exercise some more. John thinks that he
needs to take control of their lives and to do something more for them, and
we think it's ridiculous.
Prof. BANZHAF: But Judge Sweet...
LAUER: And professor...
Prof. BANZHAF: ...just ruled, sir...
LAUER: ...what exactly...
Prof. BANZHAF: ...the advertising for McDonald's may very well be deceptive.
That case is going to be argued in federal court in about two weeks. It is
certainly alive and well. And that's why you're going to Congress in about
two hours with the National Restaurant Association, pleading for Congress
to please protect you from these suits. On the one hand you say..
Mr. BERMAN: We're going to Congress...
Prof. BANZHAF: ...they're all frivolous.
Mr. BERMAN: ...to stop frivolous litigation, John. And no one should have
to spend a lot of money and a lot of time defending moronic lawsuits like
LAUER: John Banzhaf and Rick Berman. Gentlemen, thank you very much. A lively
debate. We appreciate it.