What if you took the legal expertise of the group that defeated Big Tobacco and aimed them directly at Big Food?
A recent New York Times article talked to the big guns who brought down the tobacco companies and earned millions and millions in fees. The group has been quietly researching for the last couple of years, and over the past four months or so they’ve filed around 25 lawsuits aimed at Big Food companies making false claims or not disclosing certain pieces of information.
This is going to be fun to watch! There have been lawsuits before … special interest group Center for Science in the Public Interest has successfully filed lawsuits to deter companies from false claims, but they tend to focus on one particular food product at a time. There was even a failed lawsuit against Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries for misleading the public into thinking “berries” were actually present in their bowls.
These new legal challenges are well-researched, well-executed, and an attack on several fronts at once. The food industry will not be swatting at flies, but rather facing off against an equally large-sized gorilla. At stake is billions of dollars of revenue, and no less important, the American waistline.
You might be surprised at some of the companies on the list … the usual suspects of ConAgra, Heinz, PepsiCo, and General Mills are there, but so is Chobani, the yogurt company with $1.5 billion in annual sales.
Look for Front of Label Marketing to Change
While “organic” is a federally defined term and can only be used on certain products that meet the criteria, words like “healthy” and “natural” mean absolutely nothing in a labeling sense. Putting such words on products may lead the consumer to think they’re getting more nutritional value, but in fact it’s only marketing, and the product could contain absolutely anything at all.
Some of the lawsuits are addressing the labeling issue and we should see more “terms” developed or banned as the litigation moves through the court systems.
Keep Reading Food Labels
The only way a consumer knows what’s in a package of processed food is to read the label. But food manufacturers have gotten more and more savvy about misleading consumers. The best way to make sure you’re actually eating the food you think you are? Buy food that doesn’t come in a package at all, such as meats, fruits, and vegetables, and cook it when you get home.
I have to admit I’m gleeful that these lawsuits are going forward. I realize that the lawyers are more into personal gain than changing the way America eats, but the end result is a consumer who will be more informed. We’ve been up against a multi-billion dollar industry for so long that it doesn’t feel like David fighting Goliath, it feels like a flea fighting Goliath. I’ll take the help wherever I can get it. What do you think?
photo credit: Ben Ostrowsky