The House of Representatives voted 276 to 139 Wednesday to pass the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act -- also known as the "cheeseburger bill" -- to prohibit overweight Americans from suing the food industry for their avoirdupois. Given that a 2003 Gallup Poll found that 89 percent of Americans don't believe in blaming the fast-food industry for obesity, you'd think the bill is unnecessary.
I take this vote as Washington's way of recognizing that in America a bad idea, given enough time, will gain support, take root and become law. If there's one value that has been eroded in America, it is the belief in personal responsibility. Hence the House vote.
Consider tobacco lawsuits. For years, juries rejected the suits filed by smokers seeking damages from cigarette companies on the grounds that smokers knew the habit was risky. But after plaintiff lawyers were able to establish that Big Tobacco covered up bad news on smoking, juries found a strong pretense to rule against manufacturers.
The war against Big Mac has begun -- even though it is no corporate secret that fast food is fattening. Last year, a federal judge dismissed a New York suit filed by two overweight teenagers who claimed McDonald's hid heath risks associated with Big Macs and chicken McNuggets. But there's always another day.
As Mike Burita of the food industry's Center for Consumer Freedom noted, anti-tobacco lawyers eventually won by filing lawsuits, and then more lawsuits, across the country until finally one jury broke the tide.
Bryan Malenius -- an aide for Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla., who authored the cheeseburger bill -- said that his boss believes anti-food lawsuits will fail. Still, Malenius admitted, "You can't imagine that there's not a judge and a jury somewhere in the country that is going to enable (anti-fast-food lawyers) to win the lawsuit that opens up the floodgates."
John F. Banzhaf III will be there. A law professor at Georgetown University, Banzhaf is America's biggest booster when it comes to suing Big Food.