Pity the poor timing of food nanny Michael Jacobson. Last week the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) argued: “Consumers deserve to have their day in court if they believe that the foods they ate contributed to obesity and related diseases.” But consumers don’t believe in suing restaurants and food producers for their own dietary excesses. According to a Gallup poll released yesterday, only 9 percent of Americans favor obesity lawsuits. Respondents who describe themselves as overweight are no more likely to support such litigation.
The truth is that CSPI has never cared what consumers think. An Internet survey conducted well before Jacobson’s comments indicated that only 8 percent thought “fast-food restaurants should be liable for the ‘negative health effects’ of their products.” That’s the same percentage supporting CSPI’s “fat tax” proposal.
In CSPI’s worldview, it doesn’t matter what consumers want — after all, the simpletons are too stupid to feed themselves. Why does CSPI rail against supposedly mind-controlling advertising, and seek to restrict reasonable health claims on foods and adult beverages? Consumers just can’t be trusted with information.
Here we have a self-described consumer organization that pushes wildly unpopular ideas and doesn’t trust average people to make the most basic decisions. So what’s with Jacobson’s populist rhetoric?
CSPI hopes to take advantage of a flawed perception described by Financial Times columnist Patti Waldmeir, who writes that obesity lawsuits “are increasingly seen as democracy at work.” But actually, concludes Waldmeir, the opposite is true: “One judge or jury, viewing one lawsuit, should not decide fat policy for an entire nation.”
The food cops at CSPI support obesity lawsuits precisely because they want one judge or jury to decide fat policy for the entire nation. Michael Jacobson knows CSPI’s positions are unpopular. So he hopes to sidestep democracy, and place his trust in lawyers like John Banzhaf. If Banzhaf follows through on his plan to “sue them and sue them and sue them,” perhaps he will eventually find that one jury willing to legally impose his views (and CSPI’s) on the rest of us.