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The Physicians Committee

NEWS RELEASE March 8, 2004

Doctors Urge House to Reject “Cheeseburger Bill”

H.R. 339 Threatens Consumer Rights, Grants Big Food Sweeping Immunity

WASHINGTON–The so-called “Cheeseburger Bill,” scheduled for a House vote this week, is anti-consumer and anti-health, says the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The “Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act,” or H.R. 339, absolves the food industry from any legal liability for its contributing role in the nation’s obesity epidemic. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Ric Keller, R-FL, an acknowledged fast-food fan whose top donors include Outback Steakhouse and the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

“H.R. 339 is an unsavory attempt to protect corporate profits at the expense of American health,” says PCRM president and nutrition researcher Neal Barnard, M.D. “The bill strips the public of its right to seek any redress against food manufacturers for their contribution to the obesity crisis, and the related epidemics of heart disease and diabetes. Given that we are just now beginning to discover the industry’s involvement, granting them sweeping immunity is, at best, dangerously short-sighted.”

New information has come to light, for example, showing that some manufacturers hawking unhealthy foods deliberately target consumers who are vulnerable to these food addictions. Recent studies reveal that some unhealthy foods—such as chocolate, sugar, meat, and cheese—are physically addictive. They cause the release of opiate-like compounds that stimulate the brain’s pleasure center. Lawsuits could help uncover the extent to which the food industry knew about and took advantage of these food addictions.

Other information revealed over the past few years—well documented in books such as Food Fight and Food Politics—have exposed similarly disturbing data about how industry manipulates our food choices through an arsenal of PR tools from gargantuan ad budgets to the sponsorship of research studies “proving” their products are healthy. These exposés have helped show that while personal responsibility is part of the obesity equation, food choices are not made in a vacuum. They are clearly affected by what Big Food makes available and affordable.

Ever since the first fast-food lawsuit was filed in 2002 on behalf of an obese New Yorker who maintained that McDonald’s contributed to his obesity and diabetes, a growing number of health advocates, using lessons learned in the tobacco wars, have promoted obesity litigation as a tool for much-needed reform. Indeed, the threat of litigation has already encouraged McDonald’s to discontinue its Supersize portions and Kraft to announce an elimination of in-school marketing. PCRM and others believe the elimination of this legal threat will remove any further motivation by the food companies to curtail their most harmful and irresponsible behaviors. (While proponents of H.R. 339 and similar bills on the state level claim obesity lawsuits are “frivolous,” legal remedies already exist to eliminate such suits at early stages.)

As Dr. Barnard says, “We were smart enough not to grant the tobacco industry immunity years ago, and tough enough not to give the gun industry immunity last week. Let’s not treat Big Food any differently.”

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

Media Contact:
Jeanne S. McVey

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