Soapbox

The myth of food lawsuits in California

I was troubled by an op-ed penned by a pair of entrenched participants in the campaign to undercut constitutional legal rights and fatten corporate profits (“Lawyers running amok in California are suing over food,” Viewpoints, Oct. 17).

As often happens in the war against U.S. consumers, propaganda was peddled. But the facts are quite different.

Let’s start with what the authors claim is a “ridiculous” class-action lawsuit against Nutella, a chocolate-hazelnut spread manufactured by what the authors describe as a “family-run business.”

Ferrero SpA is a foreign-based multinational conglomerate, not a mom-and-pop business. To convince parents that Nutella – the equivalent of candy on steroids – is a nutritious breakfast spread, Ferrero employed a highly sophisticated and deceptive marketing campaign.

California’s false advertising law is far from biased, as the article claimed. The truth is it’s copied from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission Act – a law in existence since 1914. Every state prohibits false advertising, and most have the same laws as California.

What about the claim that such class-action lawsuits are filed in California because the laws are lax? Once again, it’s simply not true.

California is the nation’s most populous state and so bad corporate conduct hurts the most people here. Word of the Nutella settlement rippled across the country, ending this shameful advertising campaign nationwide. Had the case been filed in a smaller state, it would have had little effect.

The authors also liken such cases to Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits, but they have nothing in common. Meritless ADA lawsuits in California are brought by a few outliers not held in high regard by fellow lawyers – and they’ve prompted legislation to eliminate abuses while preserving disability rights.

As for the annual Institute for Legal Reform poll ranking state lawsuit climate, it’s nothing more than an opinion survey of corporate executives. Talk about response bias.

Americans are getting sicker, not healthier, because of bad corporate behavior. It’s time to improve laws protecting our food supply, not weaken them.

Tim Blood is a San Diego lawyer and board member of Consumer Attorneys of California. He can be contacted at TBlood@bholaw.com.

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