Interestingly there have been no lawsuits filed in Pennsylvania - what prompted the bill was lawsuits in other states. The bill passed the state House 191-7 and is now going to the state Senate for consideration.
Food industry groups have sought such protection across the country since a 2002 lawsuit against McDonald's by two New York teens who said their golden arches diet made them fat. The case is pending. The Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association opposed the bill as unnecessary because no such lawsuits have been filed in Pennsylvania.
In a related story, the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Doug Reichley (R-Lehigh) said, "My legislation is an attempt to make sure food does not become the tobacco of the new millennium."
I wonder if Representative Reichley understands his implicit admission that the food companies his legislation is protecting are indeed guilty of producing nutrient-poor foods?
Think about it - he's comparing food with tobacco and the tobacco lawsuits that continued even with successful jury determinations that tobacco companies were not responsible for the product they manufactured, marketed and sold to American consumers. Over time, juries were given more evidence, from scores of researchers, that showed the detriments of tobacco use, the marketing of such products and the manipulation of such products by manufacturers to increase use by consumers. In time, and with the weight of the evidence, juries started to hold the tobacco companies responsible. Tobacco use is still highly viewed as as a personal choice and one who uses tobacco held to the "personal responsibility" standard - however, tobacco companies are also now held responsible for their marketing, manufacture and messages to the public.
Now think about food. And consider how the legislation is being viewed by those in the food industry:
- The bill is favored by the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association. "We think it's a pre-emptive strike, and something that will protect the industry here from something that's just unreasonable," Patrick Conway, president of the restaurant association, said after yesterday's vote.
- Ed Herr, president of Herr Foods Inc., expressed delight at the margin of the vote. "What that vote tells me is people agree obesity is a personal responsibility and not the responsibility of a food processor or a restaurateur. ... It's really a lifestyle problem."
And why are legislatures even considering protecting the food industry when our experience with big tobacco provides us with insight that full disclosure isn't a given or to be taken for granted when it comes to information about both risk and benefit regarding the healthfulness of something?
What exactly is the industry afraid of in the future?