Land of the Free

Published: Tuesday 15 July 2003

Land of the Free

-- Also discussed were methods of litigation, guerrilla tactics such as several types of unexpected lawsuit filings and pushing the envelop with cases that appear 'frivolous' to get bigger results and larger settlements.

Speakers included Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University and author of Food Politics, a book which indicts the food industry for the pressure tactics they use. "[Obesity] is a tremendous driver of ill-health for Americans, young and old," said conference organiser and well-known anti-tobacco crusader Richard Draynard. Encouraging lawyers to commit to suing fatty-food makers and restaurants for millions, George Banzhaf, professor of law at George Washington University, said: "Remember, many social movements were kick-started by litigation".

A day before the conference, Banzhaf -- who led the charge against tobacco companies -- deposed in front of a House judiciary subcommittee, which in the process of hearing testimony on H R 339, "The Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act". The proposed legislation was introduced in Congress on January 27, 2003 by Republican senator Ric Keller; it is aimed at putting "common sense in a food court, not blaming people in a legal court wherever there is an excessive consumption of fast food". Critics suggest it is aimed at protecting restaurants from obesity-related lawsuits.

The possibility of a new wave of tobacco-style lawsuits has provoked outrage in the food industry, who must be looking to Congress for relief. Currently, 61 per cent of adults in the US and 13 per cent of children are either overweight or obese.

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