Lawyers Devise 'Big Food' Takedown Saying Industry Should Pay for Soaring Obesity Costs
Lawyers have contacted state attorneys general in 16 states to pitch a radical idea: force the food industry to pay for out-of-control, obesity-related health care costs that have contributed to America's Medicaid spending woes.
It’s a move reminiscent of 1998's Big Tobacco takedown, which ended in a $246 billion settlement with 46 states, a ban on cigarette marketing to children and unprecedented regulation from the Food and Drug Administration, according to Politico.
Despite some skepticism, several nutrition and legal experts think a similar strategy could be applied against "big food"—especially as obesity-related diseases have lapped smoking as a major contributor to health care costs.
“I believe that this is the most promising strategy to lighten the economic burden of obesity on states and taxpayers and to negotiate broader public health policy objectives,” said Politico source Paul McDonald, a partner at Valorem Law Group in Chicago, who is leading the charge.
McDonald also wrote a Politico Pro opinion piece, published on Feb. 23, to further clarify the aim of his legal initiative that could help states close budget gaps as billions in Medicaid expenditures devour respective shares of tax revenue.
"No fair-minded, informed and honest observer would contend that food manufacturers bear absolutely zero responsibility for the problem of obesity. In fact, the food industry’s own health-related product modifications are an acknowledgment of some responsibility. I believe that whatever level of responsibility that some food manufacturers bear—supported by evidence, and taking into account personal responsibility—is their fair share of reimbursement owed to states obligated to treat obesity-related illnesses under Medicaid. That percentage may be on the lower end, e.g., 25 percent, or the higher end, e.g., 75 percent. It is not zero.
But while food manufacturers bear some responsibility, taxpayers are currently bearing 100 percent of the costs, paid for by higher state taxes, reduced state services or both. Tens of billions, and growing. I don’t believe that is sustainable, or fair."
Proposals, tailored to specific budget situations in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oregon and Pennsylvania were sent to respective attorneys-general by McDonald; however, no state law official has agreed to file a lawsuit against big food.
“Regulation through litigation is not an effective or appropriate mechanism for policymaking,” said Ginny Smith Clemenko, senior director of communications at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, one of he food industry’s most powerful lobbying groups, to Politico. “Proponents of bans, taxes and lawsuits as a means to curb obesity don’t truly understand the nature of the problem and lack the collaborative vision shared by first lady Michelle Obama and the vast majority of stakeholders who are working passionately to solve it.”
Over the last decade, food and beverage companies have introduced 20,000 healthier products, voluntarily removed full-calorie drinks from schools and adopted self-regulatory standards for marketing to kids, said Smith Clemenko.
McDonald’s law firm has teamed up with leading obesity and diabetes researchers, including Barry Popkin at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Robert Lustig at the University of California San Francisco and economist Frank Chaloupka at the University of Illinois at Chicago, to help deliver a winning legal strategy.
Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist, is known for “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” which went viral and attracted more than 4 million views. He thinks litigation should focus on diabetes since diseases related to obesity are most expensive.
From spaghetti sauce to Wheat Thins, about 75 percent of all the packaged foods in U.S. supermarkets contain added sugars.
Another concern is that costs will only compound over time due to the alarmingly high obesity rate of children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
- The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the U.S, who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2010. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5 percent to 18 percent over the same period.
- In 2010, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
- Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral and environmental factors.
McDonald closes his letter by writing any money gained from a potential lawsuit would go to the state covering the high Medicaid bills, not individuals affected by obesity who would be included under a consumer class-action lawsuit.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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