By a vote of 276 to 139 with most Democrats opposed, the House gave its approval to a bill that would bar lawsuits against the food industry over obesity. (Christopher Lee, "House bill bans suits blaming eateries for obesity", Washington Post/San Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 11). The bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate; similar legislation is pending in many state legislatures and has passed in Louisiana. Jacob Sullum at Reason "Hit & Run" has two good commentaries on the bill. It's "disconcerting to see Congress instructing state courts to dismiss patently absurd lawsuits. I worry that it's not really necessary. I worry more that it is," Sullum writes. (Mar. 9). Sullum also catches GW law prof John Banzhaf talking out of both sides of his mouth about whether obesity lawsuits have been successful (Mar. 10).
One activist quoted in the new coverage is Ben Kelley, who in cooperation with Prof. Richard Daynard has taken a prominent role in organizing conferences advising lawyers on how to sue the food industry (see Elizabeth Lee, Andrew Mollison, "Food fans weigh in", Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mar. 10). It turns out that this is none other than the same Ben Kelley we covered ten years ago when we examined how litigation consultants working with trial lawyers have successfully promoted bogus media coverage of alleged auto hazards, including NBC's famous use of hidden incendiary devices to portray GM trucks as prone to explode (Walter Olson, "It Didn't Start With Dateline NBC", National Review, Jun. 21, 1993.) The pro-foodmaker Center for Consumer Freedom has more on Kelley's recent activities: see Dan Mindus, "McLawsuit Lies", National Review, Oct. 29; "Trial Lawyers Up Demands On Food Companies", Oct. 30; "Update: Obesity War Loses Discredited General", Nov. 4.
MedPundit Sydney Smith thinks (Mar. 10) that the much-headlined new study purporting to find that obesity claims more lives than smoking "is, all things considered, a very weak study. Certainly too weak to be the foundation of sweeping public policy." For more of our coverage of obesity litigation, see Aug. 11, Jun. 20, Sept. 4, Aug. 6, Jul. 21, Jul. 3, Jul. 3 again, Jul. 1, Jun. 24, and a great deal more here. More: Radley Balko dissents from the bill on federalist grounds (Mar. 11)(& letter to the editor, Mar. 18).
[cross-posted from Overlawyered, where it ran Mar. 11, 2004]