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Commentary

Taking Cola to Court
Walter K. Olson, City Journal, 12-1-06

In the Winter issue of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, Walter Olson examines how plaintiff's attorneys are plotting their next (extremely lucrative) litigation campaign against American corporations—and finds tort lawyers hoping that Coke is the Real Thing.

For some time, a noisy campaign has been under way to portray the food and beverage industry as the villain in America's ongoing battle with the waistline. Without the snack hucksters' machinations, it seems, we'd all eat raw bell peppers and be reed–thin. Backed by "progressive" foundations, nutrition advocates in and outside the universities now regularly appear in the press, demanding a national obesity policy aimed at changing our collective diet, by force of law if necessary–or quite possibly by force of litigation. As one advocate, Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, put it: "If someone is saying that a 64–ounce soda at 7–Eleven contributed to obesity, that person should have his day in court...

So should we laugh at these lawsuits? Take them seriously? The case for laughing is clear enough. After all, Round One of this kind of litigation—the suits by obese customers against McDonald's and other burger chains—drew derision from the general public, an overwhelming 89 percent of whom in one poll opposed letting people sue over fattening foodstuffs.

This time around, though, the lawyers have selected targets more shrewdly. Unlike many other ideas floated by nutrition activists, that of restricting soda sales in schools has proven popular with the general public, and politicians have taken notice. Most big–city school systems have banned soda, as has California in public schools statewide, and other states are likely to follow—all without anyone needing to sue. You might even suspect that the lawyers are positioning themselves to "front–run" a social trend already in progress and then later take credit (and claim fees) when it advances further.



Project FDA.
  
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