Wednesday, June 14, 2006

KFC Lawsuit

Read this at the Volokh Conspiracy. They didn't comment so I will.

This is all interesting, but does it justify a lawsuit?
See you in court, Colonel Sanders.

That's the message delivered today to KFC, a unit of Louisville, KY-based Yum! Brands, by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Today that group and the Washington, DC, law firm of Heideman Nudelman & Kalik, P.C., filed suit against the fast-food giant over its use of partially hydrogenated oil--the chemically altered, trans-fat-laden oil that kills roughly 50,000 Americans per year. The class action suit, filed in Superior Court of the District of Columbia, asks that the court prohibit KFC from using partially hydrogenated oil, or that at the very least, signs be posted in KFC outlets notifying customers that many KFC foods are high in trans fat.

"Grilled, baked, or roasted chicken is a healthy food-and even fried chicken can be trans-fat-free," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "But coated in breading and fried in partially hydrogenated oil, this otherwise healthy food becomes something that can quite literally take years off your life. KFC knows this, yet it recklessly puts its customers at risk of a Kentucky Fried Coronary."

The plaintiff in the case is retired physician Arthur Hoyte, of Rockville, Maryland. He had purchased fried chicken at KFC outlets in Washington, DC, and elsewhere, not knowing that KFC fries in partially hydrogenated oil.

"If I had known that KFC uses an unnatural frying oil, and that their food was so high in trans fat, I would have reconsidered my choices," said Dr. Hoyte. "I am bringing this suit because I want KFC to change the way it does business. And I'm doing it for my son and others' kids-so that they may have a healthier, happier, trans-fat-free future."

I haven't found much in the complaint on damages, just for costs essentially. (Though there is a "Prayer for Relief" on page 13 that I don't know the significance of.) And this bit from the complaint:
As a direct, proximate and foreseeable result of KFC's breaches, Dr. Hoyte and the Class have been damaged in an amount to be determined at trial.
I wonder though, as a doctor, and I'm assuming he's an MD, shouldn't he have had an idea that the use of such oils is legal and possible? And who exactly eats that much at KFC? I find it hard to believe that anyone uses KFC products as the cornerstone of their diet. I could be wrong.

The Complaint makes this statement:
By failing to disclose and warn as to its use of partially hydrogenated oil in its products, KFC damaged Dr. Hoyte by selling products that KFC knew or should have known were unhealthy, inferior, and dangerous to the health of consumers, including Dr. Hoyte. In addition, by not disclosing the use of trans fats in its food products, KFC failed to provide D.C. Consumers with the information they needed to make informed decisions regarding the food products and trans fats they were consuming.
Back to the article:
Meals at KFC can be startlingly high in trans fat. Besides chicken, KFC's biscuits, potato wedges, pot pie, and several desserts all contain hefty amounts of trans fat from partially hydrogenated oil. Just one Extra Crispy breast has 4.5 grams of trans fat. A large order of Popcorn Chicken has 7 grams of trans fat, and KFC's Pot Pie contains 14 grams of trans. A typical 3-piece Extra Crispy combo meal, with a drumstick, two thighs, potato wedges, and a biscuit has a staggering 15 grams of trans fat-more trans fat than an individual should consume in a week.

Ouch. That is kind of frightening. Glad I don't eat there.
"District of Columbia law allows consumers to seek relief from the courts when companies fail to disclose essential facts about their products," said CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner. "That KFC uses the worst frying oil imaginable to prepare its chicken is something that KFC should absolutely be required to disclose at the point of purchase."
That statement bothers me. First, if oil with transfats is so harmful, why isn't it illegal? If its legal, doesn't that mean it meets an FDA standard for safety? Then there is that disclosure bit. If the law doesn't require said disclosure, why would KFC disclose it at the point of purchase? Since I like guns, I'll use them as an analogy. Should a firearms dealer be required to disclose at time of purchase that the gun makes loud noises that could harm the hearing and flings projectiles that could cause death or severe injury? Or is there a distinction here on what is considered obvious and not quite so obvious? Fried chicken if fit to eat, but is obviously not the basis of a healthy diet. But KFC also is using an oil that is pretty much the least healthy. Does that require them to qualify the health aspects to the consumer, or is it the consumer's responsibility to know what they are eating? I'm not fond of the KFC method, but it does strike me as primarily the consumer's responsibility.

You'd think that with information like this available to the consumer, they would choose to eat elsewhere and force the companies to change their methods. It does work. Though I must admit that the vast majority of the public doesn't really give a damn about what they eat or what's in it.

It makes me nervous when courts start to make the decisions on what I should eat. Where does one draw the line? What is good to me won't be considered so by another person. I just don't trust that court room decision on what is reasonable.

I doubt I'll be eating fast food for a long time after reading this.

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