Congressional ‘Cheeseburger Bill’ Gains Support

Published November 1, 2005

Growers, manufacturers, and distributors of food are seeking congressional support of a bill addressing frivolous lawsuits that claim a plaintiff’s obesity or weight gain is the responsibility of a person who sells food.

In a May 26 letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), groups including the American Bakers Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, and American Frozen Food Institute urged the senator to cosponsor S. 908, the “Commonsense Consumption Act,” introduced on April 27, 2005 by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

The letter read, “Over the last three years we have seen lawsuits claiming the plaintiff’s weight gain is the responsibility of those selling food. Restaurants and cookie companies were sued. Ice cream parlors and even school districts have been threatened with abusive lawsuits. Litigation that blames the consequences of one’s eating habits on another erodes personal responsibility and threatens business with substantial legal costs.”

Public Support Is Strong

The letter cited a July 2003 Gallup poll that found nearly 9 of 10 Americans (89 percent) agree fast food restaurants should not be held liable for the eating habits of their customers. The signers asked Frist for federal action “to provide a uniform solution for an industry that produces and sells quality products nationwide.”

This type of legislation has become law with strong bipartisan support in 21 states (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming) and is currently pending in another 28 states.

Other signers of the letter included the American Beverage Association, National Confectioners Association, National Council of Chain Restaurants, International Dairy Foods Association, Snack Food Association, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

House, Senate Consider Bills

The same groups are appealing to members of Congress to support a similar bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 554, the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act of 2005. The bill was introduced on June 14 by Rep. Ric Keller (R-FL) and currently has 85 cosponsors.

The same legislation, known as H.R. 339, passed the House last year 269-139 but was not taken up by the Senate.

Support for personal responsibility in food consumption exists in the medical community as well. “It’s basically choice. Where you eat, when you eat, and what you eat,” said Richard Dolinar, M.D., an endocrinologist and senior fellow for The Heartland Institute. “It’s a voluntary act to go into a restaurant.

“Weight is fundamentally genetically based,” Dolinar said. “To blame the poor guy in McDonald’s for the size of your waist is crazy.”

Susan Konig ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.