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Senator McConnell Column on the Commonsense Consumption Act


Location: Washington, DC

Imagine ordering a burger and fries at your favorite drive-thru, pulling up to the window and paying twice: once for the food, and again to fatten the pockets of trial lawyers who want to make "Big Food" their next target.

It's not as far-fetched as it sounds. Thanks to unscrupulous lawyers who abuse our legal system, many restaurant customers are already paying twice. They just don't know it because it is hidden in the cost of the food.

The latest trend among unprincipled trial lawyers, aided and abetted by certain academics and overzealous public-health advocates, is to turn people who overindulge in food into victims—and the restaurants that serve them into cash cows, through frivolous lawsuits claiming restaurants are to blame for making their customers fat.

In one case still pending before the courts, two New York children are suing McDonald's for making them fat. Their lawyers claim the fast-food company failed to inform them that its food was high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol, and so it is McDonald's fault that, after eating there several times a week, the kids are obese.

You'd think a lawsuit like this would get laughed out of court. But this case, and the threat of many more like it, is all too real.

That threat drives up insurance costs for everyone who sells food, whether they own a fast-food franchise, a fashionable full-service restaurant or a corner grocery store. Those costs are inevitably passed on to customers in the form of higher prices.

The money wasted to fight these absurd lawsuits is money not used to invest in and grow the food industry, one of the most important parts of the nation's economy. The food retail sector is America's largest private-sector employer, providing jobs and livelihoods for more than 12 million people.

Worst of all, predatory lawsuits against the food industry actually have the perverse effect of making matters worse for overweight Americans. Obesity is a serious health problem, and everyone should take care to eat healthily and exercise. But by pinning the blame on restaurants, obesity lawyers undermine the basic truth that we all must take personal responsibility for what we put into our mouths.

Like nearly every other American, I've eaten at fast-food restaurants—but I don't remember anyone twisting my arm and forcing me to eat another hamburger.

That's why this week in the U.S. Senate, I introduced a bill, the Commonsense Consumption Act, curbing excessive, frivolous lawsuits against the food industry. To keep eating habits out of the courtroom and in the kitchen where they belong, my bill will throw out lawsuits that blame the restaurant or grocery store for what a customer chooses to eat.

The Commonsense Consumption Act won't do anything more than that. It won't allow restaurants to misrepresent the nutritional information for the food they serve. It won't give restaurants any immunity from improperly storing, handling, or preparing their food. And it won't apply to claims stemming from the use of dietary supplements.

It will simply deliver an important message about personal responsibility: that you are what you eat, so eat accordingly.

We already live in a society where lawsuits are too often the first, rather than the last, attempt to resolve a dispute. The targets of these nuisance lawsuits are often not the party truly at fault, but the party with the deepest pockets.

Let's not let the food industry—an important sector of this nation's economy—become the latest casualty of this assault. Anyone who wants to sue a restaurant for being fat needs a therapist, not a lawyer.

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