Posts Tagged ‘food safety’

Cheeseburger bill passes House

By a vote of 276 to 139 with most Democrats opposed, the House gave its approval to a bill that would bar lawsuits against the food industry over obesity. (Christopher Lee, “House bill bans suits blaming eateries for obesity”, Washington Post/San Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 11). The bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate; similar legislation is pending in many state legislatures and has passed in Louisiana. Jacob Sullum at Reason “Hit & Run” has two good commentaries on the bill. It’s “disconcerting to see Congress instructing state courts to dismiss patently absurd lawsuits. I worry that it’s not really necessary. I worry more that it is,” Sullum writes. (Mar. 9). Sullum also catches GW law prof John Banzhaf talking out of both sides of his mouth about whether obesity lawsuits have been successful (Mar. 10).

One activist quoted in the new coverage is Ben Kelley, who in cooperation with Prof. Richard Daynard has taken a prominent role in organizing conferences advising lawyers on how to sue the food industry (see Elizabeth Lee, Andrew Mollison, “Food fans weigh in”, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mar. 10). It turns out that this is none other than the same Ben Kelley we covered ten years ago when we examined how litigation consultants working with trial lawyers have successfully promoted bogus media coverage of alleged auto hazards, including NBC’s famous use of hidden incendiary devices to portray GM trucks as prone to explode (Walter Olson, “It Didn’t Start With Dateline NBC”, National Review, Jun. 21, 1993.) The pro-foodmaker Center for Consumer Freedom has more on Kelley’s recent activities: see Dan Mindus, “McLawsuit Lies”, National Review, Oct. 29; “Trial Lawyers Up Demands On Food Companies”, Oct. 30; “Update: Obesity War Loses Discredited General”, Nov. 4.

MedPundit Sydney Smith thinks (Mar. 10) that the much-headlined new study purporting to find that obesity claims more lives than smoking “is, all things considered, a very weak study. Certainly too weak to be the foundation of sweeping public policy.” For more of our coverage of obesity litigation, see Aug. 11, Jun. 20, Sept. 4, Aug. 6, Jul. 21, Jul. 3, Jul. 3 again, Jul. 1, Jun. 24, and a great deal more here. More: Radley Balko dissents from the bill on federalist grounds (Mar. 11)(& letter to the editor, Mar. 18).

Tampered food?

A comedy cliche is the diner who tries to get out of his or her check by claiming to find a cockroach in the food. (E.g., “Victor/Victoria.”) Nowadays, such scams go beyond seeking a free meal, but include hopes for a lawsuit — the Pepsi syringe hoax being a well-publicized instance, the trampled shopper (Dec. 4) a more recent case.

We’re not saying Leila Sultan, the woman who settled a lawsuit against an Irvine seafood restaurant over an allegation of finding a condom in her chowder (AP, Jan. 12) is such a scamster. But, as the Smoking Gun points out, it “was the second time she was forced to sue over an injurious incident at a chain restaurant” — she recovered $2000 from Taco Bell in a settled 1996 lawsuit over spilled coffee. (via Obscure Store)

Cake decorators face lawyer Grinch

Dragees–the silver-coated balls of sugar decorating many Christmas treats–have been withdrawn from the market in California, as wholesalers and bakers refuse to sell the popular product for fear of being named in a pending suit by a private Napa lawyer against Martha Stewart, Dean and DeLuca, and other purveyors. The low-cost product wasn’t worth defending in an expensive trial. State regulators saw no reason to act, but California law permits private citizens to bring suit.

“We are not aware of any health problems associated with this product,” said Lea Brooks of the California Department of Health Services. “Levels of the metal are extremely low — you’d have to consume massive quantities. We don’t know how much.”

Rebels may still purchase the product in the other 49 states of the Union. (Carol Ness, “Bay Area faces holidays without little silver balls on baked goods”, San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 23 (via Daily Legal Newswire); David Ryan, “Napa suit ends sales of cake decoration”, Napa Valley Register, Dec. 9).

Read On…

The jake-leg episode

While on the topic of alcohol, we also recommend Vice Squad’s Oct. 14 commentary on the Jamaican Ginger paralysis episode of the early 1930s, in which tens of thousands of mostly poor drinkers were afflicted with paralysis (“jake leg”) after consuming a cheap “medicinal” liquor substitute that had been adulterated with an industrial plasticizing chemical for purposes of evading scrutiny by Prohibition enforcers. A recent New Yorker article on the jake-leg episode (Dan Baum, “Jake Leg”, Sept. 15) declares it unfortunate (see final page of story) that this public health catastrophe occurred before the modern liberalization of product liability and class action law, which would presumably have led to a cathartic spasm of litigation. That’s a far from obvious conclusion, however, since even under today’s liberalized rules the only deep-pocketed entity on the scene, the company that made the plasticizing chemical, would not likely be found responsible in court unless someone could show it was aware its product was at risk of being added to the food supply. The more appropriate target for blame — aside from the shady operators who committed the adulteration — is the Prohibitionist regime itself, which ensured that the alcohol trade would fall into unscrupulous hands.

Archived food and beverage posts, pre-July 2003

Archived entries before July 2003 can also be found here (food) and here (beverages).

Food, 2003:Give me my million“, Jun. 20-22; “Lawsuit’s demand: stop selling Oreos to kids“, May 13 (& update May 16-18: suit dropped); “Fast-food opinion roundup“, Mar. 25-30; “They’ll be back for seconds“, Feb. 19; “Claim: marriage impaired by tough bagel“, Feb. 3; “Judge tosses McDonald’s obesity case“, Jan. 23 (& Jan. 27-28); “U.K.: coercive campaign to constrain Cadbury“, Jan. 20; “Anti-diet activist hopes to sue Weight Watchers“, Jan. 13-14.

2002:California’s hazardous holiday” (acrylamide), Dec. 27-29; “Scourge of the Super-Size order“, Nov. 7; “WHO demands pretzel de-salting by law“, Nov. 1-3; Letter to the editor, Oct. 23; “Personal responsibility roundup“, Sept. 12;  “Fat suits, cont’d“, Jul. 26-28; “‘Ailing man sues fast-food firms’“, Jul. 25; “Sin-suit city“, Jun. 10; “McArdle on food as next-tobacco“, May 27 (& Jun. 3-4); “Nader credibility watch” (calls fast-food restaurants “weapons of mass destruction”), May 24-26; “The mystery of the transgenic corn“, May 14-15; “‘Targeting “big food”‘“, Apr. 29-30; “‘Woman sues snack food company for spoiling diet’“, Apr. 23-24; “No more restaurant doggie bags“, Mar. 20-21; “Fast-food roundup“, Mar. 11; “King Cake figurine menace averted“, Feb. 1-3; “McMouse story looking dubious“, Jan. 25-27; “Life imitates parody: ‘Whose Fault Is Fat?‘”, Jan. 23-24.  “‘Hot-dog choking prompts lawsuit’“, Jan. 2-3.

2001:There’ll always be a California” (chocolate and Prop 65), Dec. 4; Letter to the editor (Wisc. exempts lutefisk from toxic-substance status), Nov. 29; “Disposable turkey pan litigation“, Nov. 23-25; “‘Diabetic German judge sues Coca-Cola for his health condition’” (candy bars too), Nov. 18; “‘Baskin-Robbins lawsuit puts family in dis-flavor’“, Aug. 2; “‘Couple sues over flaming Pop-Tart’“, July 30; “Feeling queasy?” (E. coli), July 27-29; “‘Man sues Rite Aid over stale jelly bean’“, July 20-22; “By reader acclaim: ‘Vegetarian sues McDonald’s over meaty fries“, May 4-6; “Woman settles hot pickle suit with McDonald’s“, April 16 (& Oct. 10, 2000); “Putting the ‘special’ in special sauce” (alleged rat in Big Mac), March 29.

2000:You deserve a beak today” (McDonald’s chicken case), Dec. 6.

1999:Are they kidding, or not-kidding?” (proposal for suits against makers of fattening foods), Nov. 15; “Toffee maker sued for tooth irritation“, Nov. 5-7; “More things you can’t have” (unpasteurized cider), Sept. 27; “Not just our imagination” (calls for class actions against fast food, meat industry), Sept. 25-26; “Taco Bell not liable for Ganges purification pilgrimage“, Aug. 30.

Beverages:Litigation good for the country?” (Carl T. Bogus), Aug. 19, 2002; “British judge rejects hot-drink suits“, Mar. 29-31, 2002 (& Aug. 10, 2000); “‘Diabetic German judge sues Coca-Cola for his health condition’“, Nov. 18, 2001; “‘Group sues Starbucks over tea ingredient’“, Sept. 10; “By reader acclaim” (maker of cup holder), Jan. 11, 2001; “‘Court says warning about hot coffee unnecessary’” (Nevada Supreme Court), July 18, 2000; “Now it’s hot chocolate“, April 4; “Next on the class-action agenda: liquor?“, March 22, 2000; & see Sept. 10, 2001. For burns from hot beverages that were under the control of the complainant, see also personal responsibility page.