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Last Updated: Friday, 18 July, 2003, 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
Bill aims to block obesity suits
A top Republican US senator is planning legislation to stop people from suing food companies for making them obese.

The number of overweight and obese people in the US is soaring, and food makers and sellers are scared that they could become the "next Big Tobacco" and face a spate of lawsuits.

The "Commonsense Consumption Act" proposed by Senate's number two Republican, Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, would prohibit such action.

"It is important not to blame poor eating habits on someone else," he said.

"It's certainly not the restaurant's fault if you go back to the buffet bar three times."

Clinical obesity now afflicts more than half of all adults and 13% of children in the US, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), at an annual cost of $117bn ( 73.4bn).

Backing

Mr McConnell has a long history of introducing "tort reform" bills, to try to block the massive class action suits involving thousands of people which many large US corporations detest.

FOOD FUNDING
Senator McConnell's rankings for campaign contributions:
Beer, wine & liquor: 4
Food & beverage: 5
Food processing/sales: 3
Food stores: 5
Livestock: 5
Poultry: 5
Restaurants: 3
Tobacco: 1
(Out of 33 Senators in 2002 election)
Source: Center for Responsive Politics

He receives more campaign contributions from the tobacco industry than anyone else in the 100-member Senate.

Other contributions include $75,905 for his 2002 re-election campaign from food & beverage companies, and $72,715 from food processing and sales concerns.

Overall, he ranks number three, four or five in the Senate for contributions from the food store, food processing, food manufacturing, restaurant, poultry and livestock industries.

The next tobacco?

No successful suit has yet been mounted against the food industry on the grounds of causing obesity, although several have been filed only to be thrown out.

But more are on the way, claiming that food manufacturers fail to warn consumers about the contents of their products and the possible damage it can cause.

The fear is that the multi-billion dollar settlements and fines imposed by the courts on the tobacco industry could set an example for food vendors in the future.

Kraft Foods, the food maker controlled by Philip Morris cigarette maker Altria, has already said it will cut the size of its portions.

"We're making these commitments first and foremost because we think it is the right thing to do for the people who use our products and for our business," Kraft said.

"But if it also discourages a plaintiff's attorney or unfair legislation, that's fine with us."


SEE ALSO:
Kraft plans to cut snack sizes
02 Jul 03  |  Americas
Obesity drugs 'no quick fix'
23 Apr 03  |  Health
Economists tackle US obesity
17 Jan 03  |  Business


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