Unhappy Meals

The US House of Representatives recently voted 276-139 for a bill that will prevent people from suing the food industry for making people obese. The vote on the White House-backed ‘Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act' came a day after a new study said obesity was likely to become the country's biggest preventable killer, overtaking smoking. The study found that two-thirds of US adults and nine million children are either overweight or obese. It attributed 400,000 deaths in the US to poor diet and lack of exercise – a 30-per-cent increase since 1990.

House Majority leader, Republican Tom Delay, praised the so-called ‘Cheeseburger Bill' saying: ‘“Ronald McDonald made me do it” should never be considered the basis for a lawsuit.' But with the fast-food industry spending millions on campaign contributions and lobby groups, testifying at Congressional hearings and influencing Government nutrition policy, it seems that when it comes to passing this bill Ronald McDonald may have made them do it.

Conversely, food does have the right to sue people. In a whopper of a legal precedent, in 13 states in the US you can be sued by the food industry for libelling a cheeseburger or other food product under so-called ‘food disparagement' laws. No more mad cow jokes allowed in Texas.

Meanwhile Morgan Spurlock – whose documentary Super Size Me describes his 30-day McDonald's-only diet and contends that his body ‘nearly fell apart' from the extra 25 pounds (11 kilos) he gained – has drawn the ire of the neo-liberal Competitive Enterprise Institute. They were so incensed by Spurlock's heresy that they sent their own agent, Sosa Whaley, out to prove that eating such a diet will not only help her ‘maintain a healthy lifestyle, but even lose weight while doing it'.

‘Damn the public interest and personal responsibility,' writes Whaley about critics of the fast-food industry, ‘these people not only want control over your life through Twinkie taxes and regulations, they want to take away your freedom of choice. As Americans we are duty bound to prevent this from happening or we will no longer live in the “Land of the Free”.'

Take that with your Freedom Fries!

New Internationalist issue 368 magazine cover This article is from the June 2004 issue of New Internationalist.
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