Big Tobacco Lawyers Aim Their Sights on Food Industry

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Food makers advertise in a deliberate way to mislead customers, according to the lawyer from Mississippi who fought ‘big tobacco’ and won a settlement worth many millions of dollars. The food industry, claims Don Barrett, deceives the public about the health effects of their products.

Lexington lawyer Barrett is hoping that the 27 cases his firm has filed thus far will force the food industry to clean up its act the same

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way that ‘big tobacco’ was forced to clean up theirs in the late 1990’s. Barrett argues that FDA rules that prohibit misbranding are ignored on a regular basis.

“The food industry has realized that the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] has no teeth,” said Barrett. “You can’t use euphemisms and you can’t disguise ingredients by calling them something people can’t understand. If you do, your product’s misbranded. And if it’s misbranded, it’s illegal to sell it.”

Barrett filed his first case against food makers in April of this year and is drawing heavily upon his successful experience battling ‘big tobacco’ in 1998.

“The health claims they made for tobacco, and the denials they made about it being bad for you, they affected people’s health,” he said. “Perhaps the food industry doesn’t affect people’s health as directly, but people have the right to know what they’re getting.”

To prove his point, Barrett explained his case against Greek yoghurt maker Chobani, who listed sugar as “evaporated cane juice” in their list of ingredients.

“It’s so deceptive that it’s really kind of funny. But it ain’t funny if you’re a mother whose child has juvenile diabetes,” said Barrett. “It’s a crime to misbrand food in that way, so we want them to quit selling it and pay everyone back.”