Archive for Thursday, October 20, 2005

House votes to block obesity lawsuits

October 20, 2005

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— The Republican-controlled House voted Wednesday to shield fast-food chains from lawsuits that blame them for making people fat.

Nicknamed the "cheeseburger bill," the measure stems from lawsuits accusing McDonald's of causing obesity in tens of thousands of children. The food industry has asked Congress and state legislatures to protect it from liability, and so far, 21 states, including Kansas, have agreed.

"You cannot litigate personal choices and lifestyles," said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said potential costs from the lawsuits threaten the food industry and its 12 million employees and raise food prices for consumers.

"These suits would be laughable if they were not so harmful," Sensenbrenner said.

The measure, which won approval on a 306-120 vote, would prevent class action lawsuits blaming restaurants and food companies for weight gain or obesity. The House passed a similar bill last year, but the Senate ran out of time to act.

Two-thirds of American adults are overweight, and nearly one-third are obese, while obesity among children and teenagers more than doubled in the past 30 years, according to government estimates.

Critics of the bill contend that a better way to make people responsible for how they eat is to require nutrition information on menus and menu boards.

"But of course this silly legislative effort has nothing to do with encouraging personal responsibility and everything to do with pleasing a powerful and politically connected industry," said Michael Jacobson, director of the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest.

A food industry lobbyist said lawsuits against food companies are the wrong way to fight obesity in America.

"More energy must be put into solving the problem of obesity, and less into assigning blame for the purpose of collecting legal fees," said Hunt Shipman, executive vice president of government affairs and communications for the Food Products Assn.

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