‘Big Food’ to Win Special Protection in House of Reps.

Statement of CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson

March 10, 2004

Listening to the industry’s allies in Congress, one would come away convinced that the nation’s restaurants were being sued out of existence by their overweight customers. Since only one such obesity-related lawsuit has ever been considered and since that case was dismissed, Rep. Ric Keller has discovered a cure for which there is no disease, only ill side effects. It is pathetic to see a Congress that has done virtually nothing to stem the tide of the obesity epidemic leap so enthusiastically to the defense of the food industry. Congress should be debating meaningful policies to help Americans eat well and maintain healthy weights.

If lawmakers really wanted to encourage personal responsibility, they should require restaurants to list calories and other nutrition information on menus and menu boards. It’s impossible for consumers to exercise personal responsibility when businesses are concealing important information about their products. With nutrition information on menus, it would be hard for plaintiffs to convince jurors that restaurants are responsible for obesity.

It’s telling that the restaurant industry thinks it needs the same defense that asbestos makers and gun dealers seek. The industry surely deserves attention from Congress, but not in the form of protection from the justice system. Corporations’ fear of the inside of a courtroom is just about the only form of protection Americans have left against corporate misbehavior. Fear of supposedly frivolous lawsuits has surely been a big part of some chain restaurants’ decisions to get rid of “supersizing” and add more healthful items. Rep. Keller’s bill would discourage that trend and should be defeated in the Senate.


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