On March 3, the U.S. House of
Representatives passed legislation preventing citizens from suing
restaurants on the grounds that their food causes obesity.
Advocates of the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act
claim that the regulation of weight gain is the personal
responsibility of citizens. Although this is true, the act would
nonetheless rob citizens of their legal right to sue, as well as
undermine our legal system’s principle of the separation of
powers.

Laura Wong

As individuals do have the responsibility to regulate their own
food intake, many lawsuits over obesity are likely to be unfounded.
The possibility of some frivolous lawsuits, however, does not
warrant stripping the entire population from even the option of
suing the food industry for their personal protection. It is
possible that a number of these lawsuits will be relevant to and
necessary for the protection of consumers. As it is impossible for
the government to take into consideration all possible
circumstances that will arise in the future involving the food
industry and individual fat intake, it is irresponsible for the
government to pass such an all-encompassing measure. It is
essential for consumers to always have a right to file suit as a
last resort.

Furthermore, the act would undermine our legal system’s
principle of the separation of powers. If it went into effect, the
act would mean that the legislative branch has passed a law that
curbs a citizen’s right to appeal to the judicial branch for
his or her protection. One branch of the government should never
restrict the people’s right to interact with another branch
in this way.

This act is only the latest in a string of Republican-led
efforts to protect big businesses from lawsuits. Disturbed by the
numerous lawsuits against the tobacco industry during the last six
years (including one by the federal government to cover Medicare
costs), corporations have lately attempted to obtain protection
from similar legal action. Only last week, Republicans attempted to
pass a bill that would have granted legal immunity from gun crimes
to firearms makers and distributors. Last year, they tried to
shield producers of a gasoline additive from lawsuits over water
pollution. Before that, some Republican legislators supported legal
immunity for the tobacco industry as well as vaccine
manufacturers.

The Republicans claim that the food industry, like these other
big businesses, needs to be protected from damaging, frivolous
lawsuits. This claim, however, is unfounded. The food industry is
very capable of hiring lawyers for protection in lawsuits. The
financial health of large corporations is not the responsibility of
the federal government. A citizen’s right to file lawsuits,
however, is a constitutionally affirmed right and far outweighs the
need for large industries to be protected.

The House has made an unwise decision in passing the Personal
Responsibility in Food Consumption Act. The U.S. Senate should vote
against the bill to prevent it from becoming law. Otherwise, an
essential right of citizens, as well as the principle of the
separation of powers in our legal system, will have been
undermined.

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