No offense to real sharks, but lawyers these days can be awfully voracious predators.
To wit: A class-action lawsuit is now making its way through the California courts alleging that ConAgra is responsible for “deceptively marketing” its Wesson-brand cooking oil as a “natural” product.
Yes, really. A lawsuit filed in California against ConAgra Inc. alleges that the food processing firm is deceiving consumers by promoting Wesson Oil as a natural food product—despite the fact that there are no regulations to which the plaintiffs can point as proof of illegality.
The lead litigator in the case, Andrei Rado, is a partner at Milberg LLP, a New York City-based law firm that styles itself as a pioneer in prosecuting class-action suits. On its website, Rado notes that his practice focuses on “consumer class actions” for “clients injured by corporate wrongdoing.”
(Along with a raft of suits involving alleged securities frauds, Milberg is also pursuing a lawsuit against Nike, Reebok, Adidas and New Balance, et al, for promoting their trendy new “barefoot” running shoes, since the companies’ claims that their shoes are a “healthy alternative” to traditional footwear “may not be accurate.”)
The point of this lawsuit (and every other class-action suit) is to collect damages from a corporate defendant with deep pockets and a consumer brand presence that creates an unwillingness to conduct a public court battle over potentially damaging allegations about their product safety. That’s how litigators get paid.
But the real goal of this suit is for the law firms, along with their activist allies, to take credit for generating momentum for a bill that would force food companies to label products containing ingredients from genetically engineered food crops.
All that is premised on the belief that GMOs are inherently dangerous and unhealthy and thus require what amounts to warning labels. We’re not talking truth in labeling here, like the nutritional information labels now found on virtually all consumer packaging. We’re talking about setting the stage for further litigation to plumb even deeper into the depths of “corporate wrongdoing.”
For example: India is currently developing legislation that would enable production of GMO fruit and vegetables, which Akhila Vijayaraghavan, founding director of the GreenDen Consultancy, calls “a potentially calamitous move, due to the lack of labeling laws in India.”
Calamitous? In what way, one might ask. How exactly have consumers been injured by consumption of foods with ingredients from GMO crops? By the activists’ own calculations, as much as 91% of corn and soy ingredients used in U.S. food processing are grown from genetically modified varieties. These days it’s possible to walk down virtually any supermarket aisle and find food products claiming to be “all-natural.” Understandably so, since the Food and Drug Administration has declined to tackle the legally thorny issue of how to define the term natural on food labels.
But if GMO foods actually are responsible for causing allergies, inflammation, and accelerated aging, as numerous activist attorneys love to claim, shouldn’t there be mountains of medical data supporting such allegations?
Of course not, since there is no link between GMOs and all the health issues activists claim they cause.
Look, I’m no cheerleader for corporate marketing stunts, from low-level “greenwashing” (as in the case of Wesson Oil) to more serious deceptions involving pharmaceuticals and consumer products that prove to be faulty, dangerous or misrepresented.
But in this case, the idea that somebody has been harmed by using a cooking oil made from GMO corn is ridiculous. There have been millions of gallons of the stuff consumed over the past decade or so, and nobody’s come up with any link—other than expanding waistlines—between ConAgra’s product and any health concerns.
There is a solution here, however, and it doesn’t involve one of those negotiated settlements wherein the lawyers pocket millions and the consumers who signed onto their shady class-action suit get a check for a buck fifty for their troubles.
Food companies should start labeling all their foods as “Made with ingredients from genetically enhanced food crops.” Turn the acronym “GE” into something positive.
After all, if 90% of foods have some traces of GMO ingredients, where are people going to go to get their groceries? Virtually everything would be a GMO-labeled food and within a couple years, people would realize that there’s nothing wrong with the brand-name products they’ve always purchased. GMO doesn’t taste any different, it doesn’t cook any different, and the aftereffects of eating it won’t be any different, either.
It’s the only way to put to rest the lingering suspicion activists want to stoke that genetically engineered foods are dangerous, unsafe and the result of evil corporations engaged in wrongdoing.
Dan Murphy is a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator