On Sunday the New York Times published a long, breathless screed attacking food company marketing (“Inside the hyper-engineered, savagely marketed, addiction-creating battle for ‘stomach share.’”) The article itself furnishes an example of empty, hype-fueled journalistic calories, or so I suggest in a new op-ed at the Daily Caller.
Class action lawyers have filed suit saying that contrary to its marketing, the popular beverage doesn’t actually “give you wings.” [Reuters, ABA Journal] Meanwhile, the same scientific observation that underlies the lawyers’ action — that pharmacologically, the drinks don’t seem to deliver effects readily distinguishable from those of a strong coffee — is hard to square with the oft-expressed fear that Red Bull et al pose unusual risks to consumers, although the New York Times does seem to manage to keep both ideas in its head at once. [Jacob Sullum]
More: Ron Miller, in comments (“this completely mischaracterizes the lawsuit”).
If you’re going to arrange a would-be class action on behalf of buyers dreadfully shocked that a ready-to-drink cocktail marketed as all-natural in fact included trace quantities of sodium benzoate, be sure your client does not lack “typicality.” [Alison Frankel, Reuters] Sodium benzoate is the sodium salt of benzoic acid, a spoilage retardant which occurs naturally in cranberries, plums, apples and other foodstuffs, but is typically synthesized for food use.
Tim Carney is glad to see the New York Times returning repeatedly to this theme [Washington Examiner]
Not entirely unrelated, a video from the Institute for Humane Studies on how regulation contributes to the widespread use of corn sweeteners in place of sugar in our food supply (“Why Is There Corn In Your Coke?” with Diana Thomas):
One of the Obama administration’s signature federal initiatives has been the First Lady’s campaign for a redesigned federal school lunch program, with more centralized prescription from Washington aimed at healthier and more natural fare. Now the results are beginning to come in, and they aren’t pretty, as Baylen Linnekin documents: skimpy calorie counts that leave energy-burning athletes desperately hungry, food wastage as unpalatable fruit gets tossed into garbage bins, contraband chocolate syrup aimed at making skim milk palatable, and in Wisconsin mass student boycotts of food that’s “worse tasting, smaller sized and higher priced.” More: Patrick Richardson/PJ Media, Althouse. Earlier here (new rules discourage scratch-cooking), here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc. More: “This year, we’ll be hungry by 2:00…. We would eat our pencils.” [Caroline May, Daily Caller]
Sensationalist coverage devastated a niche sector of the meat processing industry, and now a group of companies are demanding $1.2 billion from various defendants including ABC News, Diane Sawyer, and a UCLA microbiologist over various alleged inaccuracies. South Dakota, where the case was filed, has passed something called the South Dakota Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act, one of a genre of “food defamation” laws previously criticized in this space. [Popehat; Reuters, ABA Journal, Poynter]
“According to the bylaw approved by residents in April, it will be illegal to sell non-sparkling and unflavored drinking water in single-serving plastic bottles of 1 liter or less in Concord on or after Jan. 1, 2013.” Jean Hill, the chief proponent of the measure, cited environmental concerns and said, “I feel bottled water is a waste of money.” Thanks for saving us from that temptation, ma’am! [Boston Globe; Wicked Local Concord]
“Do The New School Food Regulations Actually Hinder Scratch-Cooking?” Looks like it [Bettina Elias Siegel]
What Gloria Romero saw in Sacramento: prison guards lobby for longer sentences, nurses lobby against first aid, but the teachers union was the most untouchable of all [WSJ] Media Matters and the NEA [David Martosko, Daily Caller]
To earn top ratings under new city evaluation scheme, Denver teachers must press students to “challenge… the dominant culture” and “take social action to change/improve society or work for social justice.” Gee, thanks, Gates Foundation [9NEWS, auto-plays; earlier on ideological tests for educators]
“School Tells Deaf Boy, ‘Hunter,’ to Change His Name — It’s Too Violent” [Skenazy/Agitator]
Allegations of mass cheating in, too perfectly, Harvard “Introduction to Congress” course: “I say give the cheaters an A, fail the rest” [Alex Tabarrok] Suspended fraternity sues Miami University for $10 million [Cincinnati Enquirer]
The New York Times reports on some experienced plaintiffs’ lawyers who are hoping to rip big sums out of food companies alleging mislabeling; one is particularly outraged at a yogurt maker’s use of the “evaporated cane juice” euphemism for sugar. “The lawyers are looking to base damages on products’ sales…. [They] are being selective about where these suits are filed. Most have been filed in California, where consumer protection laws tend to favor plaintiffs.” The Times article, which reads somewhat like a press release for the lawyers involved, flatteringly describes them as “the lawyers who took on Big Tobacco,” though in fact a much larger group of lawyers played prominent roles in the Great Tobacco Robbery of 1998, and no evidence is presented that most of that larger group are taking any interest in the food-labeling campaign. What’s more, the many efforts by the plaintiff’s bar to identify a suitable Next Tobacco in the intervening years have been full of false starts and fizzles, including such mostly-abortive causes as mass litigation over alcohol, slavery reparations, HMOs, and dotcom failures.
The Times does draw the link to Proposition 37, the lawyer-sponsored measure I wrote about last week, which could open up a basis for rich new suits based on failure to correctly affix labeling tracking the sometimes-fine distinctions between genetically modified foodstuffs and all others. The text of Proposition 37 proposes to base minimum damages on the total sales volume of a product sold out of compliance, not on any measure of actual harm to consumers (&Thom Forbes, Marketing Daily; Ted Frank, Point of Law). Earlier on Don Barrett here and on Walter Umphrey and Provost Umphrey here and here.
After the quarter-century disgrace that is Proposition 65 litigation — run by and for lawyers’ interests, with no discernible benefit to the health of the citizenry — you’d think California voters would have learned a thing or two. But unless poll numbers reverse themselves, they’re on the way to approving this fall’s Proposition 37, ostensibly aimed at requiring labeling of genetically modified food, whose main sponsor just happens to be a Prop 65 lawyer. I explain in a new piece at Daily Caller. More coverage: Western Farm Press; Hank Campbell, Science 2.0; Ronald Bailey, Reason (&Red State).
More: defenders of Prop 37 point to this analysis (PDF) by economist James Cooper, arguing that 37 is drafted more narrowly than 65 in ways that would avert some of the potential for abusive litigation. And from Hans Bader: would the measure be open to challenge as unconstitutional, or as federally preempted?
NYC hearing on Bloomberg soda ban “a pre-scripted event with a foregone conclusion” [ACSH, WLF] despite inclusion of Baylen Linnekin on witness list [Reason, Jacob Sullum] If calories are the point: “Hey, Mayor Mike, why not ban beer?” [Sullum, NYDN]
California restaurants serving foie gras “can be fined up to $1,000…or is it a tax?” [Fox via @ReplevinforaCow]
How food safety regulation can kill [Baylen Linneken, Reason] We’ve got a nice little town here, don’t try to grow food in it [same] And the prolific Linnekin is guest-blogging at Radley Balko’s along with Ken and Patrick from Popehat, Maggie McNeill, and Chattanooga libertarian editorialist Drew Johnson.
“Left Wing Sovereigntism! Public Citizen Assaults Investor-State Tribunals” [Julian Ku/OJ; my 1996 piece on the Loewen case, which led to an international tribunal complaint by the victimized defendant]
Learn to eat lionfish, advised officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in a recent publicity campaign: not only is it tasty, but you’ll be combating an exotic-species invasion that is endangering reefs. Oops! “Of 194 fish tested, 42 percent showed detectable levels of ciguatoxin and 26 percent were above the FDA’s illness threshold of 0.1 parts per billion.” [MSNBC] Ciguatoxin, common in reef predators, is a naturally occurring toxin that can cause neurological disorientation and a variety of other nasty effects.
Amish raw-milk farmers beware: as Mike Riggs reports at Reason, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky introduced an amendment that would have curtailed the power of Food and Drug Administration agents to carry firearms and make warrantless arrests — the agency would still have retained many other legal weapons with which to secure compliance with its will — but the amendment failed by a 78-15 vote. The 15 are listed here.
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