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McDonald’s Archive

Food Law Bits and Pieces, January 26 – 29, 2015

January 29, 2015

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  • The New Yorker has an excellent article highlighting gaps in food safety regulation and enforcement powers — gaps that continue to create cases for attorney (and adjunct professor in the University of Arkansas School of Law’s LLM Program in Agricultural and Food Law) Bill Marler who represents victims of foodborne illnesses.
  • Possibly addressing the gaps discussed in The New Yorker article, new legislation has been introduced in Congress to create a single federal food safety agency, as Food Safety News reports.
  • Food Safety News also reports on Wyoming’s Food Freedom Bill, which would exempt transactions directly between food producers and “informed end consumers” from state regulation and provides that such consumers assume the risk of injury from consuming the food.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study on Physical Activity Calorie Equivalent (PACE) labeling on menu items to encourage parents to make smarter choices when choosing food for their children at restaurants, which prompted a quick blog post from us.
  • The Columbia Missourian has a great story on Cody Waters, an Iraq War veteran now making the transition into farming.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on rising egg prices in California, attributing the rise to changes to the new welfare standards for egg laying hens that took effect this year.
  • Don Thompson, CEO of McDonald’s, well step down from his post effective March 1. Recall that last November, Fortune Magazine ran a fantastic piece on the company’s recent decline and described a couple of Thompson’s key initiatives intended to get McDonald’s back on its feet. Those initiatives included the ability to use an in-store kiosk to build your own burger, or hiring Mythbusters guy Grant Imahara to tour a meat processing facility with a camera crew. We noted at the time that it seemed as though some of the better criticisms in the Fortune piece came from “former employees” of the company, who said things like  “The problem is the truth. They are a mass feeder” and “McDonald’s has forgotten over the past decade that the consumer makes emotional decisions.”
  • A federal bill introduced to create a single federal food safety agency, sponsored by Senator Richard Durbin and Congresswoman Rose DeLauro. The bill is called the Safe Food Act of 2015.
  • Jdsupra.com reports on the difficulties plaintiffs are having in pursuit of their “all natural” claims litigation. Read the whole thing, but if the details are a bit too geeky for you, the short of it is, “all natural” claims cases are not easy money for plaintiff’s law firms.

Bad Food Law: San Francisco and the McDonald’s Happy Meal Toy Ban

December 5, 2011

In this case, I mean “bad” as in “poorly written”.

The big news last week was the McDonald’s Happy Meal Toy Ban that went into effect in San Francisco. The law forbids restaurants from providing toys to children in connection with a purchase unless certain minimum nutrition standards are met. McDonald’s seeks to avoid liability under the law by selling its Happy Meal toys for a token amount and donating the proceeds to its local Ronald McDonald House.

Whilst guest-blogging at Reason, my good friend Baylen had some fun with this whole drama by likening the Ordinance and McDonalds’ response to the chase scene in “Bullit”. I suggested that if he wanted to pile on, the Bullit scene could have been more applicable if it had been scored with “Yakety Sax“. Because Benny Hill music makes everything funnier, you see.

Michele Simon has a lengthy and thoughtful public policy argument in favor of the toy ban over at Grist. She is tough to argue with in principle – it is no surprise that we are in fact drowning in salt and excess calories. In practice, however, coercively compelling individual food choices through the law is not an easy way to correct the problems she cites.

McDonald’s is not evading the law so much as they are being cute at the expense of lousy drafting. Read the whole Ordinance here, but pay close attention to Section 471.4:  “A restaurant may not provide and incentive item linked to the purchase of a single food item…(italics mine)”. “Provide” is an awfully ambiguous word on which to pivot the ambitions of the Healthy Foods Incentives Ordinance. “Provide”  may include McDonald’s tactic of selling a toy in an independent transaction for a token amount with proceeds going to charity, but we’d be guessing because the drafting of the law is not that tight. 471.1 (18) suggests that the ordinance is directed at those incentives that are “given out” by restaurants to compel a certain menu choice, which leads us to believe that the ordinance is meant to cover only the free stuff. In that case, McDonald’s tactical response, selling the toys for a donation, is OK. Ambiguities in the law are generally decided in favor of the criminal defendant.

These are the kinds of issues food activists will run into when they try to repair our wretched food system by altering consumer behavior. First, telling consumers and businesses what to eat and sell exposes activist to the schoolyard taunt of nanny-statism. That may be a one-dimensional and juvenile rebuttal, but it has traction. Nobody likes to be told what to do. Secondly, and more practically, the Healthy Food Incentives Ordinance shows the difficulty of drafting laws that regulate how consumers respond to the choices presented to them. They are just tough to draft.

Most of these unhealthy menu choices are actually a product of federal subsidy policy. Food corporations like McDonald’s are merely trying to efficiently and amorally create products using the mountains of cheap commodities produced as a result of national agricultural policy. San Francisco is powerless to stop federal agricultural policy, so they try and regulate only what they can, namely the behavior of its businesses and its citizenry. That is a lousy choice, but it is the only thing they can do to correct the negative, local effects of national food policy.

The next step is to put the law to the test – some city inspector will issue a ticket to a McDonald’s within city limits and then it is game-on!