Why is that the business of food processing is not strictly regulated by law so as to prevent health problems generated by an inadequate diet? Unhealthy products encourage an unhealthy diet.They appeal to the consumer by their availability and invasive advertising. If food producers are controlled by health officials, then regulations must be too lax in as far as marketed foods are concerned.
It is well-known that hydrogenated oils and partially hydrogenated oils, for instance, are extremely unhealthy. Vast volumes of research papers, studies and informative material have been published. Yet a proportion of the population still falls into the trap of believing that margarine is a “healthier alternative to butter, full of vitamins”. In fact, the trans-fatty acids it contains surpass the “healthy benefits” it offers. In this particular case, all foods containing hydrogentated oils should have a health hazard warning. Indeed, the law should prevent production of these foods. The health warning should resemble those on the cigarette packs, stating “This product contains trans-fatty acids that increase the risk of heart disease”. In this way, people would be constantly reminded of the negative 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 food is prepared.
Take for instance the case of so many diets that are undocumented, not officially controlled or approved. They promise great things but are less explicit about the great problems they generate. The very popular Atkins, for instance, a real danger to health, is a case in point.
Why are these anti-health practices not forbidden? The answer is glaringly obvious. Commercial and industrial interests have overtaken interest in people’s health.
Recent notable lawsuits
Well-informed consumers play a decisive role in their own health. And if people are not fully convinced by so many scientific studies, by so much information available, then they surely will when they find out about the multitude of lawsuits against food producers or promoters of diets. These include Kraft Foods Inc., producers of Oreo cookies, the McDonald fast food chain and the Atkins diet.
Attorney Stephen Joseph sued Kraft Foods Inc in 2003. Joseph based his accusations on a provision of the civil code of California which states that manufacturers are liable for products if the consumer is not advised of the products’ lack of safety. 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 public health. 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 of the product. If the lawsuit was intended as bad publicity for Oreos, the goal was not attained. Kraft Foods Inc will continue to produce Oreos in a trans-fat free version.
Another famous case of litigation is the 2002 suit against McDonald’s. The lawsuit was filed by the lawyer Samuel Hirsch on behalf of some obese children. The lawyer sustained that the fast food producer misled consumers into believing that the products were healthy and safe. He claimed that eating McDonald’s products made children develop health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. The court dismissed the suit on the grounds that no one is forced to eat at McDonald’s and that the law cannot moderate individuals’ excesses.
In a recent “diet trial” in Florida, 53-year-old Jody Gorran filed a suit against Atkins Nutritionals on May 26, 2004. The plaintiff claimed 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, he also requests that the company warns the public of the potential dangers of a diet favoring meat, cheese and other high-fat proteins by labeling their products. The outcome is not known at the time of writing.
Even if some of these lawsuits were begun for financial gain rather than humanitarian causes, they have a positive result. The publicity around such cases makes people ask questions, gives them the idea of doubt, the “assumption of guilt”.