Food fight

This seems to be the week to sue food companies for nutritional subterfuge. On Wednesday, the nonprofit organization Cancer Projectfiled a lawsuit on behalf of three plaintiffs against Oscar Mayer, Nathan's Famous, Hebrew National, and other food companies that sell hot dogs. The lawsuit alleges that regular consumption of processed meats increases the risk of colorectal and other cancers and that hot dog packages should have cancer-risk warning labels placed on them. And Thursday, Denny's was slapped with a lawsuit filed by a plaintiff with the support of the nonprofit organization Center for Science in the Public Interest. The lawsuit alleges that the restaurant's heavy use of salt puts customers "at a greater risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke" and asks the court to require Denny's to list sodium contents of its food on the menu. I am not going to debate the pros and cons of these two lawsuits, but they do bring up the important issue of food labeling. This issue was raised on the federal level just this year with the Labeling Education and Nutrition Act of 2009.The Act would require restaurants with 20 or more locations to list calories on the menu or on a menu board and to provide other nutritional information to patrons upon request. While some states and cities currently have laws that require nutritional labeling at restaurants, this act would make it a national requirement. The Act was initiated by U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) because of concern for the rising numbers of obese adults and children in our country. The Act is receiving widespread support from nonprofit organizations, such as the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, and from companies, such as McDonald's, Burger King, and Dunkin' Donuts. In 2003, the American Cancer Society released results of a landmark study relating 90,000 cancer deaths a year to weight. Obesity is linked to higher risks of many cancers, including breast, colon, and prostate. And we know that obesity is directly linked to an increased risk for other diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. Will food labeling make us a less obese nation? I don't know the answer, but my hope is it will. Information gives us the power to make decisions, hopefully better ones, and in this case, nutritional labeling should help us make better food choices. That combined with other governmental and educational initiatives could have an impact on obesity, and ultimately, on the number of people who die of cancer each year.