- Hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama trends on Twitter after high schoolers tweet it with pics of unappetizing lunch trays, provoking “shut up and eat what’s put in front of you” reactions from some who support the new federally prescribed rules. Maybe better to listen instead? [Kevin Cirilli, The Hill, Rachel Zarrell, BuzzFeed]
- “After suing a small California company for calling its eggless product ‘Just Mayo,’ Hellmann’s maker Unilever tweaked references on its websites to products that aren’t exactly mayonnaise either.” [AP/Tulsa World]
- Mark Bittman/Michael Pollan scheme for national food policy? Send it back to the kitchen, please [Elizabeth Nolan Brown]
- Johnny Appleseed, substance abuse enabler [Natasha Geiling, Smithsonian]
- One factor behind drive for new GMO non-browning potato: legal pressure against acrylamide, naturally forming browning component, by way of Calif. Prop 65 lawsuits and regulations [Guardian, New York Times]
- Costly, fussy, coercive: Minneapolis micromanages convenience food sales [Baylen Linnekin]
- No, FSMA isn’t worth the damage it’s doing to food variety and smaller producers [same]
Bruce Nye has a photo of a pointless new warning McDonald’s has posted in California stores to avoid litigation. The warning seems to have a side safety benefit: by the time you finish reading it, your coffee won’t be hot any more.
Readers will recall that acrylamide is a naturally occurring substance formed when many foods are browned or otherwise cooked and that (like countless other constituents of common foods) it appears to cause cancer in some animals at high dosages. California attorney general Jerry Brown has now reached a settlement with some large food companies that will require them to revise recipes for potato chips, French fries and other wares to reduce acrylamide content. Fun fact: one of the ways they may accomplish this goal is by artificially adding a chemical (OK, an enzyme) which works to neutralize acrylamide’s precursors. (Rosie Mestel, “Booster Shots” blog, L.A. Times, Aug. 4).
More: Bill Childs adds, “Oh, and the companies will pay California around $2.5 million.”
- Google beats Perfect 10 in Ninth Circuit appeal over copyright suit over thumbnail images. (Earlier: Feb. 06, Jul. 05, Nov. 04.) [LA Times; WaPo; Bashman; Perfect 10 v. Amazon (9th Cir. 2007)]
- Judge thinks better over Brent Coon’s attempt to intimidate local press through subpoenas. Earlier: Apr. 24. [WSJ Law Blog]
- US Supreme Court throws out punitive damages ruling in Buell-Wilson case, lets rest of decision stand. Earlier: Jan. 4 and links therein. Beck and Herrmann also discussed the case in March in the context of a larger discussion of the appropriateness of issuing punitive damages against a company that relied on government safety standards in good faith. [LA Times; AP].
- Big LA Times piece on the still-pending Extreme Makeover suit, where a family seeks to hold ABC responsible for an intra-household dispute over the spoils of a reality show. Earlier: Mar. 4, Aug. 12, 2005. [LA Times]
- KFC may have won on trans-fats litigation, as David reported May 3, but they capitulate to Jerry Brown’s pursuit of Lockyer’s equally bogus acrylamide suit over the naturally-occurring chemical in potatoes (Oct. 05, Aug. 05, Aug. 05, May 05, Apr. 04, etc.). KFC will pay a nuisance settlement of $341,000 and will add a meaningless warning in California stores. (Tim Reiterman, “KFC to tell customers of chemical in potatoes”, LA Times Apr. 25).
- McDonald’s sued over hot coffee. Again. One of the allegations is that McDonald’s failed to secure the lid, which is a legitimate negligence suit, but there’s also a bogus “failure to warn me that coffee is hot” count. [Southeast Texas Record; and a Southeast Texas Record op-ed that plainly read Overlawyered on the subject]
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Debra Saunders is no admirer of California AG Lockyer’s new lawsuit (see Ted’s Aug. 29 post) charging that restaurants have broken the law by failing to post announcements that french fries and other common foods contain naturally occurring acrylamides (Aug. 30). More: Jonathan Wilson posts here and here.
Bill Lockyer has thrown the power of the state of California and its taxpayers behind the litigation lobby’s attempt to extract money from just about every food manufacturer over the alleged dangers of acrylamide. We’ve been covering these suits for years: see Apr. 6, 2004 and links therein. Of course, if every single food product and commercial building structure contains a Proposition 65 warning, the net effect is to make the real important warnings, like those on cigarette packages, less meaningful, rather than to warn people of the uncertain link between french fries and minimally elevated risks of cancer, a risk dwarfed in health effects by the difference between french fries with and without trans-fats. The press coverage universally makes no attempt to parse the studies on the subject. The fact that the press-hungry and politically ambitious Lockyer filed his suit relatively quietly on a Friday—and sued only national fast-food chains, without including two popular local chains that also serve french fries—for Saturday news coverage suggests that he’s doing this as a favor for some trial-lawyer buddies and is hoping to avoid public embarrassment. This is a good opportunity for the blogosphere to prove its stuff. And will all the Democrats who claim to be part of the “reality-based community” and correctly speak out against Republican junk science like “intelligent design” raise their voices when it’s a Democrat using junk science for corporation-bashing, or is science only to be used when it can embarrass Bush? We shall see. (Tim Reiterman, “Carcinogen Warning Sought for Fries, Chips”, LA Times, Aug. 27). Other Lockyer coverage.
There’ll always be a California, cont’d: “Buying cereal, olives, potatoes, bread, almonds — even prune juice — at the grocery store soon might come with a cancer warning from the state of California. State officials are considering a requirement that grocery stores, retailers and restaurants alert customers about acrylamide, a carcinogen created when starchy foods like potatoes and breads are baked, roasted, fried or toasted.” (Greg Lucas, San Francisco Chronicle, May 25). For more about the naturally occurring compound and the litigation it has already provoked, see Dec. 27-29, 2002, Sept. 19, 2003 (final item), and Apr. 6, 2004. For more on Proposition 65, the bounty-hunting statute under which lawyers will inevitably file more suits against businesses that fail to post signs warning of acrylamide should the proposed regulation become effective, see Nov. 4-5, 2002 and these links.
Approximately forty percent of the food the world eats contains acrylamide, a chemical that is formed by cooking starches and that has uncertain carcinogenic effect. The LA Times reports on the pending lawsuit against fast food vendors in California under Proposition 65 (Sep. 19; Dec. 27, 2002), which requires labeling of all carcinogenic substances with warnings–never mind that if a warning is posted everywhere, it effectively renders all the warnings meaningless, as they essentially are in California, where the warning can already be found in nearly every parking garage. While Burger King and other large corporations are fighting against extending the labeling requirements to french fries, it’s hypothesized that smaller mom-and-pop shops will simply cave and post warnings rather than pay lawyers to defend the use of heat in preparing food. (Miguel Bustillo, “Are We Ready to Fret About Our Fries?”, LA Times, Apr. 6; Andrew Bridges, “Studies find no acrylamide, cancer link”, AP, Mar. 29; Center for Consumer Freedom, “Wayward Warnings”, Aug. 5).
At the new multi-author blog Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok writes that he’s angry: “The lawyers will get $19 million, the plaintiffs have no damages and I have been involved in an abuse of justice. I received notice yesterday that I was a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against Bridgestone/Firestone that is about to be settled. I was never injured by Firestone but that’s ok because injured people have their own lawsuit the one I am involved in is for people who were not injured. The lawsuit reads ‘Plaintiff Does Not Seek To Represent And This Litigation Does Not Involve Any Person Who Alleges That He or She Suffered Any Personal Injury or Property Damage Because Of A Failure Of One Of The Tires’ (capitalization in original.) Bear in mind that Firestone has already replaced all four of my tires with a competitor’s brand for free and similarly for many of the other plaintiffs.” (Sept. 16) Co-blogger Tyler Cowen at the same site isn’t any happier to discover that he is a member of the class in a suit against Western Union over its wire-funds-abroad service charging that, according to the legalese, “…the Defendants [made] misrepresentations about or otherwise failing to disclose to customers the fact that they received a more favorable exchange rate for converting U.S. dollars to foreign currency and foreign currency to U.S. dollars than they provided to their customers.” “Imagine that” — writes Cowen — “a middleman buying and selling at different prices!” (Sept. 17). (More: see KrazyKiwi, Oct. 8).
Meanwhile, a Wisconsin man has filed an intended class action lawsuit against jam maker J.M. Smucker after the Washington-based anti-business group Center for Science in the Public Interest published a report claiming that Smucker’s “Simply 100 Percent Fruit” products were falsely labeled because only a minority of the actual contents of a jar of strawberry or blueberry “Spreadable Fruit” consisted of those berries, the remainder consisting (as Smucker’s labeling makes clear) of syrups, concentrates and extracts derived from other fruits such as apple, grape, lemon and pineapple. (“Smucker’s Spreads Not All Fruit, Lawsuit Says”, AP/FoxNews, Sept. 5 — if you’re looking for a deceptive claim, how about the one conveyed by that headline?). The food-industry-defense Center for Consumer Freedom levels an interesting accusation against CSPI, namely that bounty-hunting lawyers suing under California’s Proposition 65 law seemed to have mysterious psychic powers to divine in advance exactly what was going to be in a CSPI report on supposed killer french fries — either that, or CSPI shared the information with them before it went public with its allegations. See “We, the jury, find the defendant ‘starchy'”, CCF, Jul. 17 (third from last paragraph); “CSPI: 100 Percent Litigious”, CCF, Sept. 8; “Latest Acrylamide Panic Based on Fudged Numbers” (press release), CCF, Jul. 10. For more on the French fry suit, see Dec. 27-29, 2002.