Cabal Of Activists And Lawyers Plot To Sue Food Companies

The country’s greediest trial lawyers, boldest food nannies, and most outlandish academics will convene in Boston this weekend to plan a legal onslaught against restaurants. The Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI), which is playing host, declares that the event is “intended to encourage and support litigation against the food industry.” The usual suspects — lawyers and activists who use junk-science in an attempt to erode consumer freedom and turn food companies into their newest cash cow — will be on hand:

Richard Daynard — PHAI president, Northeastern University law professor, and the “intellectual godfather of tobacco litigation.” Even lawyers being sued by Daynard for 5% of their $3 billion tobacco settlement say he is “greedy.”

John Banzhaf — George Washington University law professor and self-styled king of torts. The man who masterminded endless lawsuits against the tobacco industry has a vanity license plate reading “SUE BAST” — short for “sue the bastards.”

Kelly Brownell — Yale psychologist most notable for having first proposed the infamous “Twinkie tax.”

Michael Jacobson — executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the undisputed leader of America’s food police. Jacobson is “proud about finding something wrong with practically everything.”

Marion Nestle — New York University nutrition professor and author of Food Politics, an unrestrained attack on consumer freedom and the food industry.

What will this motley crew of anti-consumer choice advocates plan? If their past remarks are any indication, it won’t be to the benefit of ordinary consumers.

They’ll demonize the food choices of millions of Americans:

“Sellers of food products do not attract the same kind of attention as purveyors of drugs or tobacco. They should.”
— PHAI keynote speaker Marion Nestle, in her 2002 book Food Politics

They’ll consider lawsuits against nearly anyone:

“Banzhaf said the battle against obesity won’t focus on just one company or exclusively on fast food. He is on a brainstorming offensive, and said some possible future ventures include suing school boards for entering contracts with fast food and soft drink manufacturers; suing the milk industry for milk mustache ads that don’t disclose the benefits of skim milk; and suing the pork industry for portraying ‘The Other White Meat’ as healthy.”
The Sacramento Bee, February 24, 2003

“We’ve got lots of different legal theories. We’re also now looking at going after schools and school boards and even school board members.”
— John Banzhaf, in an interview with National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” (August 8, 2002)

“I think the litigators who’ve been talking about using their skills to improve the American diet and prevent obesity would do well to look at school systems.”
— Michael Jacobson, at a Consumer Federation of America food policy conference (May 8, 2003)

They’ll trample individual rights and mock personal responsibility:

“All these platitudes about, ‘people should eat less,’ ‘responsibility,’ all this crap!”
— John Banzhaf, in a speech at the Consumer Federation of America’s food policy conference (May 8, 2003)

“I recommend we develop a militant attitude about the toxic food environment, like we have about tobacco … [smoking] became so serious that society overlooked the intrusion on individual rights for the greater social good.”
— Kelly Brownell, in the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Nutrition Action Healthletter (July 1998)

“A reaction of many readers may well be that our proposal [for government-issued ‘Smoker ID’ cards] gives too much information to government agencies, therefore creating a ‘Big Brother’ problem … it may be too late to worry about the sort of privacy concerns that this proposal raises.”
— PHAI speaker and Harvard Law School professor Jon Hanson, explaining his vision of government-mandated “smoker ID” cards that would keep track of a smoker’s age, brand preference, and smoking frequency (Yale Law Journal, 1998). [Editor’s note: scratch out “smoking,” insert “eating.”]

They’ll troll for media attention:

“What persuaded us was, in a sense, the media. This thing is so radioactive in terms of media attention that cases will bring in other lawyers and bring in other cases.”
— Richard Daynard discussing why he supports obesity lawsuits against restaurants, in Fortune magazine (January 21, 2003)

And they’ll set the stage for “sin taxes” on food and drink:

“A small tax [on soft drinks] may be more politically feasible and would mostly go unnoticed by the public.”
— Kelly Brownell and Michael Jacobson, in an article co-written for the American Journal of Public Health (June 2000)

“[F]ood is too cheap in this country.”
— Marion Nestle, in a speech at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (November 13, 2002)

“We could envision taxes on butter, potato chips, whole milk, cheeses, [and] meat.”
— Michael Jacobson, in The Newark Star-Ledger (April 30, 2002)

The PHAI event is billed as the first annual conference on “Legal Approaches to the Obesity Epidemic.” It should be called “Brainstorming How to Get Rich off of the Obesity Scare.”

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