Fast Food Fight

This is a partial transcript from Hannity & Colmes, June 24, 2003  that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order a transcript of the entire show.

OLIVER NORTH, GUEST HOST: Could your cheeseburger and fries be dragged into court?

Recently, a group of lawyers and consumer advocates announced plans to file a series of lawsuits against fast food chains and food manufacturers who sell and produce foods that allegedly cause obesity (search) without disclosing all of the risks to consumers.

But are the lawyers the ones trying to pull a fast one? Joining us now, Mindy Kursban chief attorney -- one of the chief attorneys with the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Mindy, help me out here. How do I spell frivolous lawsuit? I mean, this strikes me as the quintessence lawsuit that attacks the whole concept of personal responsibility (search). Are you telling me I'm not smart enough to know what's good for me to eat?

MINDY KURSBAN, PHYSICIANS CMTE/RESPONSIBLE MED: I agree with you. Personal responsibility plays a role in this. But food choices are not made in a vacuum.

This is really debate about freedom of choice. The freedom of parents to choose what messages their children are exposed to has been taken away by the rampant commercialization in the schools.

NORTH: Mindy, where'd you go to law school?

KURSBAN: I went to Emory University Law School.

NORTH: It's undoubtedly a great law school. You got a copy of this document that I carry one with me; it's called the Constitution of the United States. You know?

KURSBAN: I'm aware of it, yes.

NORTH: I can find freedom of speech in here; I can find freedom of religion, freedom of the press. You know what? I can't find freedom of choice when it comes to choosing what I'm going to eat and what I'm not, but I kind of believe I've got that right and no one should be telling me I've got to go to court to get a hamburger.

KURSBAN: You're right and you know the litigation is a tool to address the public health crisis that we're having right now.

It's pretty commonly understood that we have an obesity epidemic. The Surgeon General has said that 300,000 deaths a year are attributed to obesity and overweight and the cost to society of this is over $100 billion per year.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Mindy, John Banzhaf, the law school professor and attorney who is behind these suits says his goal is to get fast food companies to offer healthier choices.

Now I agree that you should have postings up there, let everyone know what's in the food, fine. I agree with you on that. But should it be the role of government to decide and legislate  what restaurants should serve?

If you know you want to go to McDonald's, fine, people know what they're buying. Is that the role of government?

KURSBAN: You know I think that's a great question, and it's not that the government's going to decide what foods people will be eating but right now the government is actively promoting obesity. The government should stop promoting obesity and start trying to address the problem.

NORTH: How is the government promoting obesity?

KURSBAN: For example, the heavy subsidies that are given to unhealthy food products -- meat and cheese and pork and dairy and the meat.

COLMES: Well if you're going after fast food companies, you're not going after the subsidies to agriculture, that's a whole different issue. You want to get, you want to get fast food companies to offer healthier choices.

KURSBAN: This is not; this is absolutely not just about the fast food industry. That is the lawsuit that has been filed up to this date. Marvin has not resolved that.

We actually have a lawsuit against Tyson Foods for falsely advertising that chicken will reduce the risk of heart disease.

COLMES: But Mindy, I want to be clear here: is the goal to get these companies to offer healthier choices?

KURSBAN: The goal ultimately is to get the food industry to participate in the public health issue and promote better health and stop promoting poor health.

COLMES: Let me ask a very direct question, please, a very direct answer.

Should it be the role of government to decide what fast food restaurants sell. You say you want to make them have healthier choices, should government be in the business of telling restaurants what they should sell?

KURSBAN: No. I don't believe the government should.

COLMES: But that's what's behind the suit.

KURSBAN: No, the goal is not to have government regulate what restaurants can sell. The goal is to get restaurants to make the changes on their own.

COLMES: Once you have government involved and government's involved in trying to achieve that goal then government is involved in getting restaurants to change their menus. That's not the role of government.

KURSBAN: Government can change its policy. They have policies right now as I said that encourage obesity. They have these check off programs that promote false advertising.

COLMES: What's the difference, false advertising is wrong, should an obese person be allowed to sue a restaurant because they're fat?

KURSBAN: Well, it depends. It depends. And actually tomorrow the court will be deciding that.

COLMES: Well answer the question, should they be allowed to do that?

KURSBAN: Well that's a variable question.

COLMES: It's a very real question.

KURSBAN: It depends on what the facts of the case are.

NORTH: Mindy, is a restaurant's fault if I'm overweight?

KURSBAN: It is not a restaurant's fault, in and of itself, it depends on the restaurant, it depends on what that restaurant has done

For example we know that the McDonald's and other fast food restaurant's have very actively targeted children to encourage them to eat an unhealthy diet and a habit those children they stay with us when we go into adulthood.

NORTH: Mindy were you a participant in the strategy session that was developed by the lawyers to bring these lawsuits?

KURSBAN: I'm actually not aware of one. I know that there was a conference this past weekend.

NORTH: Well, that's a strategy session, how to bring these lawsuits, and it was to be modeled after the tobacco litigation, isn't that correct?

KURSBAN: The conference this weekend was about that. This, as far as the lawsuits that have already been filed, they were filed way before this.

NORTH: You personally did not participate in that strategy session?

KURSBAN: I did , I actually did attend the conference this weekend and I also want to point out that I know that there's a lot of things being said that we're going to profit. I work for a public health advocacy organization. Neither I nor the organization will stand to profit financially from this litigation. We're trying to address a public health crisis.

NORTH: I want to make sure everybody watching this broadcast understands: we do not accuse you of profiting from it, but you cannot deny that other lawyers, plaintiff lawyers in many of these kinds of suits, have profited to an extraordinary sense, wouldn't you agree?

KURSBAN: They absolutely have. They absolutely have. And I can tell you from our perspective, from the perspective of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine we would like to see industry step up to the plate and to some extent as a result of the litigation industry already has.

Step up to the plate, start offering more healthy options for people, McDonald's actually in England is offering fresh fruit now, they've introduced salads -- they're not the healthiest salads, but it's a step in the right direction. They're offering veggie burgers now; they're doing a test market in Southern California. These are the changes that should be made.

NORTH: And what you're saying, Mindy, from the perspective of your organization which is the Physicians Committee on Better...

KURSBAN: Responsible Medicine.

NORTH: OK, right. Your committee would be satisfied if McDonald's simply said OK we're going to offer better food, you don't want money.

COLMES: You've got ten seconds here, Mindy.

KURSBAN: Absolutely, we're not seeking money, no.

COLMES: All right, I want truth, I know where to go. It may not be McDonald's but there are places.

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