business news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times has a story this morning about "a flurry of litigation by advocacy groups seeking to combat what they describe as a surge in deceptive marketing by food giants.

"The misleading labels, the plaintiffs say, seek to profit off consumers’ growing interest in clean eating, animal welfare and environmentally friendly agriculture — but without making meaningful changes to their farming and production practices.

"Class-action litigation against food and beverage companies hit a record high last year, with 220 lawsuits filed in 2020, up from 45 a decade ago, according to a tally by the law firm Perkins Coie.

"The mounting wave of legal activism in part reflects the frustration of advocates who have made little headway in recent years convincing federal regulators to increase their oversight of the nation’s food supply — or even to provide definitions for words like 'healthy' or 'all natural.' Big Food, advocates say, has eagerly exploited the regulatory vacuum."

The Times story goes on:  "The Organic Consumers Association, the Family Farm Action Alliance and the Animal Welfare Institute, among the nonprofit organizations behind some of the litigation, say that misleading and exaggerated marketing dupes consumers into believing they are supporting companies whose practices align with their values. But deceptive marketing, they contend, has a more pernicious effect: It ensures the continued mistreatment of millions of cows, pigs and chickens raised by Big Agriculture while harming the livelihoods of small farmers committed to more humane animal husbandry."

The Times does note that the companies accused of misleading consumers uniformly say that the charges are without merit and that they are living up to the letter of the law.

KC's View:

If lawsuits end up exposing manufacturers are being dishonest and manipulative in terms of how they position, advertise and label their products, I would actually hope that these verdicts would hurt their businesses.  I have little patience for businesses that deceive consumers - saying a product is made one way when it is actually made in another, or saying that a product is from one place when it actually is from someplace else.

I wish the regulations were more clearly and plainly written so that businesses would have less wiggle room;  simple and unambiguous regulation also makes it easier for businesses to live up to both the letter and the spirit of what is required of them.  It is good for everybody.