House Passes Legislation To Ban Obesity-Related Lawsuits Against Food Manufacturers, Restaurants
The House on Wednesday voted 276-139 to approve a bill (HR 339) that would protect food manufacturers from certain lawsuits, the Los Angeles Times reports (Simon, Los Angeles Times, 3/11). The Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act would prohibit new lawsuits and dismiss current federal and state lawsuits in which plaintiffs seek damages from restaurants, food sellers or food manufacturers over allegations that their products are responsible for obesity or weight gain (Hulse, New York Times, 3/11). The legislation would not prohibit lawsuits filed over alleged false advertising, tainted food or complaints based on violations of state or federal law (Schaefer Munoz, Wall Street Journal, 3/11). Fifty-five Democrats joined 221 Republicans in support of the bill. One Republican, one independent and 137 Democrats voted against the legislation (New York Times, 3/11). Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has introduced a similar measure in the Senate, where "its chances for passage are considered slim," Cox/Baltimore Sun reports (Cox/Baltimore Sun, 3/11). Louisiana recently passed similar legislation, and similar bills are under consideration in 19 other state legislatures (Holland, AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 3/11).
Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.), the main sponsor of the bill, said, "We need to get back to the old-fashioned principles of common sense and personal responsibility, and get away from this new culture where everybody plays the victim and blames other people for their problems" (Cox/Baltimore Sun, 3/11). Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) added, "Americans can sue the McDonald's and Burger Kings of the world until these establishments can pay no more, but not one American will lose weight until they eat better and exercise more frequently" (Lee, Washington Post, 3/11). The White House, which also supports the bill, in a statement said, "Food manufacturers and sellers should not be held liable for injury because of a person's consumption of legal, unadulterated food and a person's weight gain or obesity" (AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 3/11). However, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said, "This is a fake bill that addresses a fake problem. We have a real problem with obesity in this country, and this bill does nothing to deal with it" (Cox/Baltimore Sun, 3/11). John Banzhaf, a professor at George Washington University Law School and a leader in tobacco lawsuits, said, "Rather than doing something about the problem" of obesity, "Congress is debating cutting off our most effective weapon against it" because lawsuits will prompt the food manufacturers to offer healthier foods and improve labels on their products (Wall Street Journal, 3/11).
Several broadcast programs reported on the House passage of the bill:
- ABCNews' "World News Tonight": The segment includes comments from Banzhaf; Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine; Lee Culpepper, senior vice president of government affairs and public policy for the National Restaurant Association; Keller; and Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) (Douglass, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 3/10).
- CNN's "American Morning": The segment includes comments from Keller and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) (Johns/O'Brien, "American Morning," CNN, 3/10). The complete transcript is available online.
- CNN's "Crossfire": The segment includes comments from Banzhaf and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) (Begala/Carlson, "Crossfire," 3/10). The complete transcript is available online.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": The segment includes comments from Scott and Sensenbrenner (Seabrook, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/11). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "Talk of the Nation": The program will include a discussion of public awareness campaigns and other efforts to encourage U.S. residents to exercise (Conan, "Talk of the Nation," NPR, 3/11). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer after 6 p.m. ET.