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Foods and Diets Litigations
by: Laura Ciocan
Why is that food processing and commerce are not strictly regulated by law so as to prevent health problems generated by an inadequate diet? Unhealthy products encourage an unhealthy diet, appealing the consumer by their availability within reach and the invading advertising. If the food producers are controlled by health officials, then it must be that the regulations are too lax in as far as marketed foods are concerned.
Everyone knows that, for instance, hydrogenated oils and partially hydrogenated oils are highly unhealthy. Tons of studies and informative material have been published, yet there is a population segment that still falls into traps saying that margarine is a "healthier alternative for butter, full of vitamins", when in fact the trans-fatty acids it contains surpass the "healthy benefits" it offers. For this particular case, all foods containing hydrogentated oils (if the law allows their production, though it shouldn't) should have a health hazard warning (like those on the cigarette packs), saying something like "This product contains trans-fatty acids that increase the risk of heart disease". Thus, people would be constantly reminded of the bad effects of such products on health.
Generally, when it comes to foods and dieting, people should be advised of the potential inconvenience that might occur due to some ingredients or the way the food is prepared.
Take for instance the case of the release of so many diets that are not documented, not officially controlled and approved, promissing great things but not being explicit about the great problems they generate. Such as the very popular Atkins, for instance, which is a real danger to health.
I wondered why such anti-health practices are not forbidden? Oh, pardon me! Why should I wonder? It's obvious: in an ever growing pragmatic course of events, the industrial interests have overpassed the interest for the health of people.
At this point, the role of the well-informed consumer is decisive for his own health. And if people are not fully convinced by so many scientific studies, informative articles and materials, then they surely become when finding out of the multitude of lawsuits against food producers (such as Kraft Foods Inc, the producers of Oreo cookies), fast food chains (McDonald's) or promoters of diets (such as the Atkins diet).
The producers of the popular Oreo cookies, Kraft Foods Inc were sued in 2003 by the attorney Stephen Joseph, who based his accusations on a provision of the civil code of California saying that manufacturers are liable for products if the consumer is not advised of the products' unsafety. He rightfully claimed that the public was not aware of the high content of trans-fats in Oreos. He declared that he sued out of concern for the public health and that no money was requested in the lawsuit, which he finally withdrew, explaining that the publicity on this case had made people aware of the health risks enhanced by the product. Anyway, if the lawsuit was intented as bad publicity for the Oreos, the aim was not reached, as Kraft Foods Inc will continue to produce Oreos in a trans-fat free version.
Another famous case of litigation is the suit from 2002 against McDonald's. The lawsuit was filed by the lawyer Samuel Hirsch on behalf of some obese children. The lawer sustained that the fast food producer mislead the consumers into believing that the products were healthy and safe and claimed that the children developed health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity because of eating McDonald's products. The suit was dismissed on the grounds that no one is forced to eat at McDonald's and that the law has not the role to moderate individuals' excesses.
A recent date "diet trial" is going on in Florida. The suit was filed by 53-year-old Jody Gorran against Atkins Nutritionals on May 26, 2004. The plaintiff claims that after going on Atkins diet his cholesterol level increased so much that he needed angioplasty in order to unblock an artery. In addition to financial damages, there is also the request that the company warns the public of the potential dangers of a diet favoring meats, cheeses and other high-fat proteins by labeling their products. The sequel is yet to come.
Even if some of these lawsuits started out of reasons beyond humanitarian, (as for instance the chase for money from damages that such important companies would pay) they have a positive result, namely, the publicity around such cases arises questionning, gives people the idea of doubt, the "assumption of guilt".
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