by Steve Gardner
Well, I see that yet another law firm has announced its hope of attracting new food companies as clients.
It tickles me to see how many large defense firms are getting into the business of offering to defend companies from deceptive marketing practices relating to food and nutrition.
Some food industry front groups like to whine about all the food lawsuits that are being brought by consumer lawyers. For example, there’s the [irony alert] “Center for Consumer Freedom,” a long-time advocate for smoking, drinking, and food fraud, which claims that its purpose is “promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choices.”
And how does the Center go about “promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choices”? By spending almost 80% of its income (check out its IRS filing) to hire the private PR firm Berman and Company, whose president Rick Berman is the same Rick Berman who is the Executive Director of the Center.
One way the Berman money tree sought to fulfill its claimed purpose was by issuing a vitriolic screed against “a growing cabal of activists [which] include self-anointed “food police,” health campaigners, trial lawyers, personal-finance do-gooders, animal-rights misanthropes, and meddling bureaucrats.”
This extremely well-compensated Executive Director of an avowedly non-profit organization is not alone in shilling for food companies. Take, for example, the recent remarks by a law professor (and former white-shod defense lawyer) who commented that a California bill that would require companies to let consumers know if their products contained GMOs would be a “‘boondoggle’ for litigation attorneys, because it authorizes citizen lawsuits against alleged violators.”
Of course, this law professor avoids saying that the best way to avoid this speculated “boondoggle” is simple.
Companies could simply comply with the law.
It’s pretty easy for companies to comply with consumer protection laws. They don’t need lawyer to help them do that. What they do need lawyers for is to help them avoid responsibility for their illegal, deceptive, and abusive practices.
Lots of highly paid defense lawyers and, of course, people like the perhaps even-more highly paid Rick Berman.
Now, it’s true that the number of lawsuits involving deceptive food marketing claims has grown significantly since I became Litigation Director for CSPI eight years ago (there were only a couple of them when I started) to the point that there are dozens of them today.
And it’s also true that an increasing number of plaintiff lawyers are turning their attention to this type of much-needed consumer protection litigation.
But it’s also true that if you counted the number of lawyers in the plaintiff firms involved in food marketing lawsuits, that number would be crushed by the number of lawyers in the defense firms who defend the food industry. Take, for example, my friend (frenemy?) Russell Jackson, who writes an honest (but pro-company) blog that covers food marketing litigation.
Russell’s firm Skadden Arps has over 1800 lawyers, which alone is perhaps 20 times as many as the combined number of lawyers who advocate for consumers in this area.
So I urge those on the side of the food companies to clean up their dialectic and instead focus on cleaning up their illegal practices.
The best way to avoid getting sued for violating consumer protection laws is simply not to violate them.
C’mon, Big Food, step up and put those plaintiff lawyers out of business!
I felt a twinge of disloyalty to other consumer protection lawyers when I typed that last sentence, until I realized that the chances of that happening are only slightly greater than the chances of my winning the Texas lottery.
Wait, let me retract that because there is a chance (albeit very slight) that I could win the Texas lottery.