Wealthy ‘Big Tobacco’ Lawyer Excited About Prospects For Food Industry
    By Hank Campbell | November 1st 2012 07:00 PM | 9 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    If you get rich suing people, your days going after Big Tobacco are basically over. The tobacco companies have been sued for everything by now and the people who still smoke know what they are doing, and the risks, and they are willing to pay an ever-increasing amount of taxes to fund government employee unions. We can't really blame corporations for that any more. 

    Luckily, the food industry could soon take its place. Not because they have done anything wrong, but rather because we live in a culture where a dizzying cross-section of people assume anyone working for a corporation must be unethical. And creating nuisance laws that make it possible to sue over labels without actually having any evidence of harm are a dream for litigation attorneys.

    Attorney Don Barrett, who forced a settlement that cost tobacco companies more than $200 billion, and made himself Senator-and-former Vice-Presidential-candidate-John-Edwards levels of rich doing so, says it is not money that makes him want to go after Big Food.

    Of course not, why would lawyers who make money suing companies care about money?  They are not unethical the way all corporations apparently are.  Right?

    In reality, we all know why a lawyer would be happy about recent efforts against food companies, especially California's Proposition 37, and it isn't because they want to help society. In the case of Prop 37, it was written by a lawyer for lawyers and funded by organic and alternative medicine groups outside California to bypass the legislature and create a law even the somewhat kooky California legislature would not pass; because laws that create money damages should prove harm.  Instead, this law monitors labels and allows for damages based on a label, not any evidence of harm, much less proof. We have lots of nuisance lawsuits in California, like lawyers who go around measuring ramps for people in wheelchairs so they can shake down a business for a few thousand dollars if the ramp is off by a quarter inch, and this law is designed to do much the same, create petty lawsuits that can be settled quickly.

    “I’m 68 years old, frankly I don’t need the cash, the law’s been good to me,” Barrett told BBC Newsnight. “This is my job, but here we have an opportunity to really help people."

    So he is going to make food more expensive for the poorest. That is help they don't need. At 68 he can be honest enough to state something funny like 'suing is my job but this time I can really help people' - which shows that ordinarily even he does not think he has any value to society.  But organic food buyers are shocked that lawyers are more excited than the public about a wave of lawsuits.  It's simply too much, even for California of 2012. California used to be a sort of 'anything goes' culture of freedom and tolerance and diversity. Now it exists to be the exact kind of social authoritarian ban-happy wonderland than the hippies protested against.  And leading the charge into more government are those same people from the 1960s. But there are limits - even making sure to exempt restaurants and alcohol (along with organic food, of course) was not enough to allow this to slip under the critical thinking radar by claiming it is about 'food transparency'.

    Barrett is going after food companies regardless of what happens with Prop. 37 and his tactics will be the same the lawyers like him have always used - if you can't prove your food is 'healthy', you will have to cut him a check.

    Meanwhile, what about other ridiculous food causes that got media attention?  Not the 'pink slime' libel one that ABC News is now claiming should be protected as free speech, the one befor even that - the war on Trans Fats, which were supposedly killing us before Big Gulps were. JM Smucker has been sued numerous times - also in California courts, of course - because someone in their marketing department wrote that their "Uncrustables" sandwiches are 'wholesome' when they contain *gasp* trans-fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil - just like organic food can claim to be 'wholesome' even if it has synthetic materials and uses synthetic pesticides.

    How are those lawsuits protecting the public in any way?  Smucker argues they are in  compliance with labeling laws - and they are - but they still have to spend money on lawsuits or, you guessed it, settle out of court for a token payment and a ton of lawyer fees. 

    Lawyers are not excited about more laws because they care about you. Nor are organic companies endorsing legislation that puts labels on other products and exempts their own because they care about you.  They all care about profit, no differently than any corporation.


    What's wrong with knowing what's in our food? Do you like the nutritional labeling that lets you know portion size, calories and the ingredients (more or less) required on packaged food? This only became required in the 1990s. Why wouldn't we want to know which food has been genetically modified? Informed buyers can make better decisions and take control of their health, if they choose to. Prop 37 isn't taking away your right to eat GMO food, it just requires labeling to let you know you're eating it.

    And tobacco cases are not over. There are more than 7,000 pending in Florida, and the plaintiffs are winning. They're winning because juries are looking at all the evidence from Big Tobacco and the plaintiff's attorneys and realizing the tobacco companies did more than just offer a harmful product. If adult consumers could review the evidence, they would not choose to smoke. Unfortunately, they addicted children and many adults find it extremely difficult to quit.

    Now, tobacco is under FDA jurisdiction because Big Tobacco genetically modified the tobacco plant to create more nicotine (a drug) which makes it more difficult for current smokers to quit and helps make underage smokers life-long cigarette addicts. And interestingly enough, Philip Morris is now Altria, which owns Kraft. Do you think a tobacco company that has a history of adding 200 chemicals to cigarettes is not adding harmful chemicals to processed food?

    I'm all for Prop 37 and I hope it spreads across the nation. Europe and Australia require the labeling, why shouldn't Americans know what's in their food?

    What's wrong with knowing what's in our food? Do you like the nutritional labeling that lets you know portion size, calories and the ingredients (more or less) required on packaged food?
    Nothing wrong with it at all. Why exempt any food, though?  Proposition 37 does just that - it exempts food made by its sponsors.  Do you not want to know what GMOs are in food you eat in a restaurant but think it is vital when you shop in a store?  Unless the store is Whole Foods, in which case nutrition labels about GMOs are unimportant?

    It makes no sense but the law cannot be modified because it is a referendum.  That is why the sponsors did it this way, because the legislature cannot modify it to be sane.

    By all means support food transparency but when you open up exemptions to whoever spends the most, you are not getting transparency.  And that is what this referendum has done. 

    Because genetically modified varieties are just that - varieties. So if it's just that basic and information that we already have for everything else, than what variety of corn goes into corn syrup? What variety of tomato is in a can of stewed tomatoes? This level of detail is not met by anything, and it's not necessary.

    If you like labels that's great. Lobby for them across the board. Demand to know when your plums are from a tree that has been grafted onto a root stock, demand to know what if your horseradish was started in cell culuture and make sure you know if your popcorn is an F1 hybrid. Be consistent.

    And GMO tobacco with increases nicotine? Back that claim up please. I'm aware of reduced nicotine GMO tobacco being kicked around for the purpose of helping cessation.

    Just be careful what you believe. If you got it from an activist site, look into it. They claim a lot of things that don't turn out to be true. People like to blame GMO for everythign from too much gluten in wheat to blue strawberrys.

    GMO food labeling should be on all foods purchased in the store. I don't care what type of tomato is in a can of tomatoes, I just want to know if it's been genetically altered. And I don't want to overburden restaurants. There are hundreds of restaurants in any mid to large city, I have a choice on whether to trust the restaurants that claim to purchase organic foods, but there isn't much choice on the grocery stores around America when I'm trying to feed my family. As a consumer, I want to choose whether to purchase GMO popcorn or not. Whole Foods isn't everywhere . . . yet.

    My source of information on GMOs are independent academic studies found in recognized independent journals.

    As for the genetic modification of tobacco plants, my source is the former FDA Commissioner, David Kessler.

    Kessler, David, A Question of Intent: A Great American Battle with a Deadly Company. New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2001: 217-277.

    Tobacco industry documents can be found here:

    My source of information on GMOs are independent academic studies found in recognized independent journals.
    Well, what are they?  Because no science organization has read them.
    Kessler, David, A Question of Intent: A Great American Battle with a Deadly Company. New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2001: 217-277.
    Public Affairs published my book also, and it disputes your claim that GMOs are harmful.  But it is pretty funny that you think restaurants will be overburdened having to label anything and you will just 'trust' them but farmers should be sued.
    I never said farmers should be sued, or that I could trust restaurants. And I did not say that Kessler's book makes any claim on GMOs. I said that food should be labeled if it has GMOs--whether harmful or not--that consumers can make a choice on whether they want to eat in restaurants, and that the tobacco companies genetically modified tobacco to create a product with higher nicotine.

    All facts. Good luck with your campaign on misinformation, you and your friends have done a great job confusing people. And it worked very well for the tobacco companies did between December 1953 and 1985. They collectively decided to "create doubt" surrounding any links between cigarettes and lung cancer.

    Industry documents are the source:[0].q=create+doubt&sq[0].f=er&sq[0].op=AND&sq[1].q=&sq[1].f=er&sq[1].op=AND&sq[2].q=&sq[2].f=er&sq[2].op=AND&sq[3].q=&sq[3].f=er&sq[3].op=AND&sq[4].q=&sq[4].f=er&sq[4].op=AND&sq[5].q=&sq[5].f=er&fd=1&asf=ddu&asd=&sd=1953&ed=1955&c=at&c=ba&c=bw&c=ca&c=ct&c=da&c=ll&c=lm&c=mg&c=mm&c=pm&c=py&c=re&c=rj&c=tc&c=ti&c=ub&c=us

    I said that food should be labeled if it has GMOs--whether harmful or not--that consumers can make a choice on whether they want to eat in restaurants
    Then at least we agree that since Prop 37 does none of this, and cannot be fixed but would have to be rescinded in another referendum after the lawsuits, it is a dumb idea and we should let the legislature come up with a solution, since most people do want food transparency but do not want bad laws.
    Those are your words, not mine.

    Fair enough, I was just curious to see if you were rational or trying to rationalize your beliefs.