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?
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.
The Washington City Paper profiles Baylen Linnekin of Keep Food Legal and mentions his blogging for this site, which can be read here.
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]
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.”
While on the subject of hamburgers, Adam Ozimek takes on the sentimental sloganeering about “pink slime” and makes the case for getting more food out of each cow, quite aside from the safety advantages of the stuff.
Commenter Jesse Spurway: “I guess head cheese and scrapple are next on the hit list.” More: Andrew Revkin, NYT; Greg Conko, CEI.
Meet the meddlers: officials from California to Gotham to London who believe that so long as we remain free to smoke, drink and consume potato chips in the privacy of our home, “government isn’t doing its job.” [Gene Healy, Examiner]
P.S. As readers rightly point out, the post should have noted that the speaker quoted in the headline was referring to the subsidized food stamp program, not the same thing as restricting consumer access to foods generally (though some “food policy” buffs certainly do favor the latter.)
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offers no apologies for what might seem a disturbing breach of the principle that taxpayer funds should not go to lobbying [Caroline May, Daily Caller] Earlier on the oughta-be-controversial federal food-policy grant program here, here, etc. More: Abby Schachter on CDC’s Thomas Frieden [NY Post].
At the New York Times, Mark Bittman has proved a durable source of entertainment twice over, first as a purveyor of recipes with a high hit rate of being worth trying, and more recently with a laughably paternalistic opinion column. [David Boaz/Cato, Damon Root/Reason, earlier]