A group of lawyers who made a name for themselves (and a small fortune) successfully suing tobacco companies on behalf of states has turned its sights on big food manufacturers, claiming liability for mislabeled or misleadingly labeled products. In the past few months, more than a dozen lawyers who were involved with the suits against the tobacco companies have filed 25 complaints against major food brands including ConAgra Foods, PepsiCo, Heinz, General Mills and Chobani.Read More:Tobacco Litigators Take on Big Food Companies
After reading the UC Davis report on mislabeled extra-virgin olive oil, angry California chefs have filed a class-action lawsuit against companies whose products failed the “virginity test.”
At press time, 10 major producers and distributors have been named in the suit:
Several of these companies sell organic varieties.
Other defendants include markets that have sold these brands “without testing and verifying” oil quality: Bristol Farms, Gelson’s, Vons/Pavilions, Ralphs, Stater Bros., Albertson’s, Target, Walmart, Kmart and Nob Hill Foods.
“This is an egregious fleecing of the California consumer,” says lead counsel Daniel J. Callahan. “These companies placed corporate profiteering over their integrity and the integrity of their product.”
Callahan believes these companies “have been knowingly misleading and defrauding California consumers for years.
“Defendants have been claiming the olive oil they sell meets the high standard of the extra-virgin classification,” he says, noting that chefs’ menu prices have reflected use of the real deal.
Some chefs and consumers have reportedly said over the years that their extra-virgin olive oils simply don’t taste right—and “it has now become clear that these tales were based in fact,” Callahan says.Chefs File Lawsuit Against Top Olive Oil Producers, Retailers
New Jersey seems to be the new hotbed for food-related litigation.
Yesterday, I wrote about the Denny’s excess-sodium lawsuit. Now, three Garden State residents are suing Nathan’s Famous, Kraft Foods/Oscar Mayer, Sara Lee, ConAgra Foods and Marathon Enterprises for failure to place warning labels on the hot dogs they produce.
The class-action suit seeks to compel all five companies to place cancer-risk warning labels on hot dog packages sold in New Jersey. The labels would read: “Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer.”
“Just as tobacco causes lung cancer, processed meats are linked to colon cancer,” says Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Cancer Project, which filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs. “Companies that sell hot dogs are well aware of the danger, and their customers deserve the same information.”
But the AICR and Cancer Project, an affiliate of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, have a tense history—what the former has called a “furious PR battle between two conflicting interest groups.” As we reported last August, AICR believes PCRM is spinning the data to promote an anti-meat agenda.
According to the data, every 50-gram serving of processed meat (roughly one hot dog) eaten per day increases colorectal cancer risk by 21%. This means that people who eat a hot dog every day have a 21% higher risk of colorectal cancer than if they never eat hot dogs.
According to the AICR’s official statement, the research “does not suggest…that an occasional hot dog at a ballgame, or a slice of ham at Easter, will cause colon cancer. What the evidence does show is that making processed meats an everyday part of the diet, as many Americans do, poses clear and serious risks. That is why AICR now recommends avoiding hot dogs, sausages, bacon, ham, cold cuts and other processed meats.”
The AICR is not taking a position on the New Jersey lawsuit.
My take: Hot dogs are by no means a healthful food, but they can be done right. Just ask San Francisco and L.A. residents who flock to Let’s Be Frank, which serves hot dogs that are free of hormones, antibiotics, nitrates and nitrites. Uncured franks are made from 100% grass-fed beef and organic spices. Italian sausages and bratwurst are made from family-farmed, humanely raise pork. Enjoy in moderation, dawg.Read More:Should Hot Dogs Carry Warning Labels?
I have mixed emotions about this story.
The nuts and bolts: Two New Jersey law firms have filed a class-action lawsuit against Denny’s, claiming the sodium content in the restaurant chain’s menu options is endangering public health.
High-sodium diets are associated with hypertension, heart disease and stroke.
True, some of Denny’s most popular meals have shockingly high sodium levels. Moons Over My Hammy (a ham, egg and cheese sandwich) has 2,580 mg sodium, and it’s served with hash browns (650 mg sodium) or grits (840 mg). Denny’s Meat Lover’s Scramble (two eggs with chopped bacon, diced ham, crumbled sausage and Cheddar cheese, served with two bacon strips, two sausage links, hash browns and two pancakes) has an indefensible 5,690 mg sodium.
Plaintiff Nick DeBenedetto, 48, has regularly eaten at Denny’s for many years, and he takes prescription meds to help control his blood pressure. One of his favorite menu items is the Hammy thing—a breakfast platter he “never would have selected” if he’d know its sodium content, he says.
“It’s as if Denny’s is stacking the deck against people like me,” he laments.
Not so fast, Nick. People with hypertension know they’re supposed to watch their sodium intake. What made you think these meals were good for you? Do you take any personal responsibility for your dietary choices?
For its part, Denny’s believes the lawsuit is “frivolous and without merit” and plans to “fight it aggressively in court.” The company also stated: “With hundreds of items on the menu, Denny’s offers a wide variety of choices for consumers with different lifestyles, understanding that many have special dietary needs.”
So, do I side with Denny’s? Absolutely not. The chain aggressively advertises unhealthful meal choices.
The only winners here are the attorneys, whose “healthy” fees turn a public-health problem into a media circus.
Eating a Denny’s Scramble is a personal decision. Eating a healthy organic diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, is a more sensible one. Should DeBenedetto seek monetary damages for choosing the former?Read More:A Salty Lawsuit