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eat drink and be merry

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):

The school lunch program flop

by Walter Olson on September 26, 2012

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]

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“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]

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Back to school roundup

by Walter Olson on September 4, 2012

  • “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]
  • More on pressure for race quotas in school discipline [Casey Cheney, Heartlander, quotes me; earlier here, here, etc.]
  • 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]
  • On coach liability for player injuries [Matt Mitten, Marquette]
  • ACLU files novel suit alleging Michigan and its agencies failed legal, constitutional obligation to bring student reading up to grade level [WSJ Law Blog]

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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.

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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?

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on July 26, 2012

  • Chicago city government joins Boston in threatening to use regulation to punish Chick-fil-A for its political views [Josh Barro, Eugene Volokh, earlier, Tim Carney]
  • 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]
  • When nutrition labeling meets deli salads: the FDA invades Piggly Wiggly [Diane Katz, Heritage]
  • “Raw Milk Advocates Lose the Battle But Win the War” [ABA Journal]
  • “PLoS Medicine is Publishing An Attack On ‘Big Food’” [David Oliver]
  • More signs that Mayor Bloomberg is eyeing liquor as a public health target [NYP, earlier] Oasis in the putative food desert: “In praise of the corner liquor store” [Katherine Mangu-Ward, Reason]

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on July 3, 2012

  • Why eating local isn’t necessarily good for the environment [Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu, The Locavore's Dilemma via David Boaz/Cato, BoingBoing]
  • “Can Behavioral Economics Combat Obesity?” [Michael Marlow and Sherzod Abdukadirov, Cato Regulation mag, PDF] Get cranberry juice out of the schools. Must we? [Scott Shackford]
  • Portland might deem you a subsidy-worthy “food desert” even if you’re six blocks from a Safeway [City Journal]
  • “Policemen eying giant iced-coffee I bought near 96th and Broadway. I’m imagining a future of ‘stop and sip.’ ‘Is that sweetened, sir?’” [Conor Friedersdorf]
  • Crise de foie: California’s ban on livers of overfed fowl results in evasion, coinage of word “duckeasy” [Nancy Friedman]
  • In defense of policy entrepreneur Rick Berman [David Henderson]
  • The federal definition of macaroni [Ryan Young, CEI]
  • 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.

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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.

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Food law roundup

by Walter Olson on May 31, 2012

  • Bloomberg’s petty tyranny: NYC plans ban on soft drink sizes bigger than 16 oz. at most eateries, though free refills and sales of multiple cups will still be legal [NBC New York]
  • Will Michigan suppress a heritage-breed pig farm? [PLF] NW bakers cautiously optimistic as state of Washington enacts Cottage Food Act [Seattle Times]
  • Hide your plates: here comes the feds’ mandatory recipe for school lunch [NH Register] School fined $15K for accidental soda [Katherine Mangu-Ward] Opt out of school lunch! [Baylen Linnekin]
  • Losing his breakfast: court tosses New Yorker’s suit claiming that promised free food spread at club fell short [Lowering the Bar, earlier]
  • Amid parent revolt, Massachusetts lawmakers intervene with intent to block school bake-sale ban [Springfield Republican, Boston Herald, Ronald Bailey]
  • Interview on farm and food issues with Joel Salatin [Baylen Linnekin, Reason]
  • “Nutella class action settlement far worse than being reported” [Ted Frank]
  • Under political pressure, candy bar makers phase out some consumer choices [Greg Beato] Hans Bader on dismissal of Happy Meal lawsuit [CEI, earlier]

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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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The Washington City Paper profiles Baylen Linnekin of Keep Food Legal and mentions his blogging for this site, which can be read here.

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April 25 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 25, 2012

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The sale of live seafood, common in Chinese food markets, can collide with blanket state regulation of wildlife sales. Virginia, for example, classifies as wildlife any animals not appearing on a list of domestic animals, even if they are raised on farms and have never lived in the wild. While the Virginia suburbs of D.C. have won fame as a hot spot for admirers of Asian food, the selection got somewhat narrower last year with the confiscation of eels, crayfish, bullfrogs and other critters from the Great Wall supermarket. Two store managers were hit with felony charges. [NY Times, Washington Post]

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No, this isn’t the first time the fashionable, First-Lady-approved theory has been debunked — see posts here, here, and here — but it’s gratifying to see the NYT’s formidable Gina Kolata get front-page space for a thorough treatment. One study found poor neighborhoods “had nearly twice as many supermarkets and large-scale grocers per square mile” as wealthier ones; another “found no relationship between what type of food students said they ate, what they weighed, and the type of food within a mile and a half of their homes.” [Tyler Cowen, Jacob Sullum] And Katherine Mangu-Ward notes the juxtaposition of Kolata’s piece with an opinion piece in the paper the very same day: “Food Deserts Are Not Real. Also, We Can Fix Them.”

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