Keeping The Machine In Check
Responsibility and Food Consumption Act
Addiction is a flaw that has plagued mankind since the beginning of time. Families hold interventions to save loved ones from it, government agencies are formed to attack it, and millions sit in jail for their inability to control them. The dealers of many U.S. citizens are on every block, are open 24 hours, and best of all are 100% legal. No, I’m not talking about drugs, but fast food. Obesity is quickly overtaking tobacco as the number one behavioral killer in the United States. According to CDC Researchers, “Tobacco use was still the leading behavioral causes of death, killing 435,000 people, but poor diet and physical activity caused 400,000 deaths in 2000[.]” Almost as many people are dying from obesity as tobacco. Obesity is attacking our youth and shortening the life spans of our families. As a personal trainer for the last five years, I’m constantly at war with obesity in my community. With so many obese Americans addicted to this potential killer, why is our government trying to protect the fast food companies? It is ludicrous for the government to consider granting immunity to food sellers and manufacturers for their large role in the obesity crisis through the Responsibility and Food Consumption Act; the government needs to look out for the rights of its citizens, not big business.
Not surprisingly the influx of obesity related deaths and illnesses have brought a surge of lawsuits against food manufacturers, mainly fast food chains. Individuals seeking restitution for their obesity have been turned away in court rooms across the U.S. and not one case has succeeded. A pending bill in the House of Representatives, called the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act, would prevent food manufacturers and sellers from being sued by individuals who have become obese from consuming their products.
There are two major sides: those who feel food manufacturers don’t play a role and those who feel food manufacturers do play a role. In the state of Illinois, the food industry has already won a major battle in the war of obtaining immunity from lawsuits against them pertaining to obesity. A law was passed on July 30, 2004 in Illinois granting such immunity. In the past, fast food visits were reserved for special occasions, but in our present day many Americans visit these restaurants several times a week. With 35% of Americans being obese, it has become obvious that our country has a problem and it is time for us to open our eyes. The problem can be changed with a veto of bill H.R. 554. Congress needs to change their motivation for being in a leadership position. They need to focus on the well being of their citizens and not big business.
This issue is one of politics, ethics, morals, legal, nutrition, and most important government loyalty. The bill H.R. 554 has already been passed in the house and is up for vote in the senate. The delegates have a moral and ethical obligation to serve their people and make decisions on what is best for them. The legal system is waiting on the outcome of this bill to determine how to handle the influx of obesity related civil suits. At the heart of the matter lies the lack of nutrition provided by today’s food industry.
This topic also extends to the topics of minimum wage, obesity, poor diet and physical activity health related medical conditions, tobacco warnings and lawsuits, and political lobbyists. If the bill does not pass, then fast food chains will have to spend more to defend themselves in court. This may affect the wages of its employees. If the bill does pass it could increase the obesity rate due to decreased regulations of food quality and nutrition levels. Poor diet and physical activity health related conditions are on the rise and the government should be passing bills to protect its citizens from it. If the food sellers are granted immunity from obesity related suits, then it won’t be long before tobacco companies are requesting the same protection. Political lobbyists often affect the decisions made by our representatives. These decisions should only be affected by Americans’ well being.
John Engler, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, supports this bill. He wrote a letter that was sent to every representative in the house on behalf of the bill. In Mr. Engler’s opinion, “The bill would stop lawsuits against food companies by people claiming that defendant companies ‘caused’ the plantiff(s) to gain weight and become obese.”
Mr. Engler writes, “claims,” as if the restaurants haven’t had anything to do with the weight gain. As a strength and conditioning coach for the last 5 years, I have worked with many people who have become obese because of their fast food eating habits. Mr. Engler has a biased stance on the issue as he personally represents the whole fast food industry. I write without bias and have seen first hand the negative effects of a fast food diet.
Mr. Engler made a good point when he wrote, “This legislation recognizes that people have a personal responsibility for what they consume and should not blame others if they fail to exercise proper restraint.” I agree many individuals eat too much junk food, candy, pop, and fast food and have little to no will power. The food industry should not be held responsible for their eating habits. The courts have backed this theory time and time again by dismissing such frivolous suits, so why should the food industry have the right to conduct business without government oversight?
The CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers writes, “In addition, at least one obesity case has been allowed to go forward, demonstrating that a persistent trial lawyer and his or her clients will continue to search for the right venue.” The CEO is painting a picture of a sue happy client that will find one gullible judge to allow the case to go forward. Again, he is only writing from one side of the debate. He has taken out any possibility that a food manufacturer could be guilty of causing obesity by mistakenly adding something to the food that causes uncontrollable weight gain. Or what if a food advertised as healthy, actually makes 5% of the population permanently insulin sensitive? Is this a case of personal responsibility? Food companies are constantly finding new fillers and preservatives to add to our foods all the time. More times than not, this is done to decrease the cost of food production. With this bill in place, food manufacturers and restaurants would have more freedom to feed us consumers inferior ingredients.
Nation’s Restaurant News is a publication that has only one interest in mind, the nation’s food manufacturers. The article, "House Passes Obesity Suit Bill," discusses the success of the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act, H.R. 554, in the House of Representatives. Author Paul Frumkin collects quotes from many representatives who support the bill and made reference to only one individual who opposes the bill. Although this article is very informative, it is also very biased. Rick Keller who sponsors this bill said he was, “pleased that the U.S. House has agreed that we should be practicing commonsense in the food court and not blaming others in a legal court. We need to get back to the principles of personal responsibility.” Rep. Bob Filner was the only one mentioned in the article that opposes the bill. He argues the bill will give the food industry too much power, “the fast-food industry has license to do whatever they want with their advertising and food choices.” I agree this bill would give too much power to the food industry. They face little opposition when it comes to major publications because they not only own their own newspapers, but also are a major advertiser in most magazines and newspapers. Many are afraid to write negatively about a main sponsor.
Those who oppose the bill may say, “I hate all those greedy people taking my employer to court. All these frivolous lawsuits have got to stop! These people have made themselves fat and now they want some money out of it.” I agree, anyone who is just after McDonald's money needs to relax. The courts have been doing their job by turning these cases away. Not a single case has been allowed to go through. The opposition traditionally argues, “The courts may be doing their job, but it is costing McDonald's so much money in attorney fees. This can raise food prices.” To that I reply, McDonald's can afford it. They are one of the richest companies in the world. I just think our legal system has been doing its job with the frivolous suits. My problem comes from a corporation as big as McDonald's having total immunity. McDonald's may not be directly causing obesity now, but what if they introduce a new ingredient that was addictive or made many gain weight instantly? Would they be guilty then? McDonald’s would argue, “We would never do that. We are an honest American business. We even have our own charitable organization, Ronald McDonald House.
I don't know how honest they are. They advertise foods as healthy, although they are far from it. They even found a way to make salad unhealthy. Those in favor of the bill assume that the food industry will never make a mistake. The bill does not only protect against frivolous suits, but also gives total immunity against mistakes made by the food industry. What would happen if McDonald’s was adding an ingredient to their food that made it addictive? With the Food Consumption Act in place, they would be within the law and untouchable in civil courts. Imagine if a similar bill would have been passed 80 years ago, but only granting the tobacco industry immunity.
In our present day, we know that cigarettes take lives; however, 80 years ago they were perceived as being healthy, providing energy, and promoting overall wellness. If the government would have given immunity to the tobacco companies, then they would be running free without restrictions or surgeon general warnings today. Our government is considering granting immunity to food manufacturers for their role in obesity. Where will this take us in 80 years? For anyone who says that's not fair, you can't compare the two. McDonald's doesn't kill people. I say that's true, but how can you be so sure it never will? Our government doesn't give this immunity to anyone else so I don't see why it has to start now?
I present this information to you with no bias or allegiance. My 10+ years experience in the fitness industry has shown me that regular fast food consumption will not only negatively affect one’s outward appearance, but more importantly will cause countless health problems. We must hold our government responsible for looking out for the well being of big business over our own. I agree that each individual should be responsible for what they consume; however, we must also hold the food industry accountable for the products they serve, sell, and endorse.
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