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Currently showing: Food security > Diet/alternatives

02 Jun 14 13:35

Last spring, a colleague and I had just wrapped up another day at a joint claims and underwriting audit in Hamilton, Bermuda. As we walked back to our hotel, we wondered aloud as to which emerging risk would next impact our clients.

Mayor Bloomberg's attempt to limit the size of a soda pop for sale in New York was all over the news. My colleague had just read Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Moss' expose in the New York Times, "The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food." In that article, Moss interviewed RobertI-San Lin, once the chief scientist at Frito-Lay. As early as the 1970s, Lin was concerned about the over-consumption of salt and its addictive qualities. He was so concerned, that he sent internal memos advocating that Frito-Lay should use science to address consumers' health concerns, not thwart them.

We could not help but draw comparisons between the "internal memos" written by scientists in tobacco companies and those by Lin. Could a tobacco-style lawsuit against the food and beverage industry be possible? If so, what impact would such a mammoth suit have on insurers of food and beverage manufacturers?

By the time we reached our hotel, we were excited to begin our research. I asked Michael Clark, Swiss Re's Chief Medical Officer, to join our team for his medical perspective.

Our white paper examines trends and legal theories against the food and beverage industry as well as its impact on insurance coverage. While much of the paper focuses on obesity and deceptive labelling in the U.S., clearly this issue impacts our clients globally.

Certainly hurdles to suing food and beverage manufacturers still exist today. The first obesity lawsuit was filed against McDonald's over 10 years ago. While the bodily injury claims in the suit were dismissed soon thereafter, other allegations survived (the allegations that McDonald's advertisements misled consumers). Ultimately, the court denied certification of the suit as a class action. Would a class action lawsuit today against the food or beverage industry satisfy a court's predominance requirement? That is, would the range of alleged injuries be so broad and so unique so as to defeat certification of a class?

We know there are no easy answers to these questions or for the obesity epidemic. But we hope this white paper raises awareness -- even sparks a conversation between colleagues about emerging risks.

Category: Food security: Diet/alternatives, Food industry


Bernd Wilke - 2 Jun 2014, 2:57 p.m.

Interesting quote - especially since this legal issue comes up again and again.

They have been law-suits in the past. Some unsuccessful

some with success - at least so far

in some countries.

It is definitely a topic to follow - because a lot of things have the potential to have negative downside if used or consumed too much.

Question is of course: where does the responsibility of the producer end and where does the responsibility of the consumer start?

Daniel Martin Eckhart - 5 Jun 2014, 8:22 a.m.

I can definitely see this happening. Just as the tobacco industry very successfully used the addictive content of their product - the fast food industry does the very same. There are addictive qualities - salt, fat, sugar.

Here's the link to the NYT article you referenced >

I just surprises me that it took so long for someone to liken to the fast-food situation to the ways the tobacco industry, governments and the public at large came deal with cigarettes. There are really two simple ways to go - either the fast-food industry dramatically alters products and behaviors - or lawsuit avalanches will roll their way... and science will back it all up.

Rashunda Tramble - 24 Jul 2014, 3:14 p.m.

There's one thing about the fast food / tobacco comparison though: smoking harms not just the smoker's health, but the folks around her or him as well. Fast food only harms the eater. Nowadays, know that eating larges amounts of fast food is unhealthy. How long will we blame someone else for our own bad habits?

Karthik Sampath - 17 Sep 2014, 4:17 p.m.

I think we need to ask, at what point does the State step in and prevent us from consuming junk food? Will they ever impose at least a statutory warning label? Because it is addictive just like tobacco. And no matter how hard we try, we will go back to it. The junk food lobby, I fear, is too strong to allow the State from doing that.

Yuezhang Qu (Yvonne) - 26 Dec 2014, 1:56 a.m.

Developing countries parents and children should be aware of the consequences of fast-food.

Tom McCarthy - 22 Dec 2016, 2:45 p.m.

Very scary thought ... but probably true. Why are things we like and crave so often bad for us?

Here is a related topic that resonates with me and that I worry about.

Is sitting really the new smoking?

A multiplicity of articles out there these days. Here is a nice current summary.

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