Food fight

More and more people want to feed their families healthy foods. But as I warned you last month (in the Daily DispatchBig Food takes over the organic market”), big business has been years ahead of consumers and government when it comes to making health claims solely for marketing purposes.

We all need to watch out for what goes into the products we buy–and the claims that are made about them. 

Because from Pam™ to Pom™, it appears some food companies may be playing fast and loose with the consumer. 

I marveled for years over the wildly aggressive marketing of Pom (makers of “Pom Wonderful” pomegranate juice). They certainly made it sound like they had discovered something new about one of the most ancient of fruits. And the public gobbled it up–or drank it down, as the case may be.

And take a look at the label of Pam. They list “propellant” as an ingredient. Which may not sound terrible. But it turns out the “propellant” is a mixture of butane, propane, and petroleum gas. Hardly something you’d want to spray anywhere near your food–let alone ON your food.

But now food manufacturers are beginning to be held accountable for these misleading labeling tactics. Of course, not by government consumer protection agencies. Nor by left-wing “consumer” groups. But by private sector trial lawyers. 

More than a dozen private attorneys have now filed 25 cases against food company conglomerates like ConAgra, Heinz, General Mills and Pepsico, claiming that they are misleading consumers and violating government regulations.

These private attorneys are asking a federal court in California to halt sales of ConAgra’s Pam cooking spray. They’ve also included Hunt’s canned tomatoes and Swiss Miss cocoa in the suit for making unfounded claims about the nutrients and antioxidants in their products.  

Pepsico (Tropicana™) and Coca-Cola (Minute Maid™) are also facing lawsuits over claims that their orange juices are “100% natural.”

And one informed watchdog group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is now suing General Mills and McNeil Nutritionals about their health claims on Splenda and Nature Valley products.   

You might wonder where all the big government consumer protection agencies and bureaucrats are in all this? Where is Consumer Reports? (Oh, right. Consumer Reports is busy bashing dietary supplements, as I reported last month in the Daily Dispatch “Smear campaigns–they’re not just for politicians anymore.”)

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) appears to be the only government agency with any interest in protecting the public from real problems. Several years ago, they filed suit against Dannon and Pom Wonderful about their claims–and won. (Which reaffirms my personal experience working with FTC 15 years ago, that they are more enlightened about CAM and nutritional medicine than the rest of the academic-government-medical complex.)

Many like to complain about lawsuits clogging up the functions of business and society. But the fact is, the legal system often remains the last refuge for people injured or killed by products–like pharmaceutical drugs–put on the market for the sole purpose of turning a profit. Not for the true best interest of the consumer.

And people also love to point the finger at “greedy” trial lawyers for having dollar signs in their eyes. But keep in mind that many of the attorneys who represent the little guy often take “hopeless” cases purely on contingency (or on “spec”).

It can be a daunting task. In states like Maryland (a bastion of big government and the academic-government-medical complex), almost 90 percent of these sorts of cases are decided in favor of the defendants, rather than the dead or injured plaintiff.

Now, obviously, no one has been harmed or killed by orange juice that isn’t 100% natural. But that’s not to say the plaintiffs in these “food fights” aren’t still doing something important. Someone needs to hold manufacturers accountable for the things they claim. Because, unfortunately, the majority of our supposed government protectors simply aren’t doing the jobs they are paid to do by the taxpayers.

So these lawsuits may be the last hope for making the world–and the supermarket–a better place for all of us.