Thursday, June 14, 2012

Food, Glorious Food Law!

Unsurprisingly, legal issues concerning food abound, but the variety of legal issues may surprise you.
There are, of course, tort law issues with food---and I don't mean issues that arise when someone slips on a banana peel.  I'm referring to questions like the following:
  • "Can I sue someone if I get food poisoning from their restaurant?"
  • "Who's liable if the FDA doesn't properly regulate an industry such that the country is plagued by food-borne illness?"
Fortunately, Seattle is home to the country's preeminent litigator of these types of questions, Bill Marler, who got his start with the Jack in the Box E. coli litigation in the early 1990s. So if you have an interest in this area, we've got the expert you might want to get to know.

Other tort law issues include whether you are liable for writing a bad restaurant review or serving non-Kosher food at a Jewish wedding, or, more famously, whether a restaurant is liable for serving you scalding hot coffee. If these issues have piqued your interest, stop by the law library and pick up a copy of The Little Book of Foodie Law for more!
There are also constitutional law questions related to food law, particularly around the question of whether to impose a "fat tax" on food items that may be linked to obesity. And what about banning certain servings sizes all together in the interest of public health? In a previous blog post, law librarian Trinie Thai-Parker pointed readers to the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, which tracks food-related legislation in the U.S., and can help you see who the interested parties are in this debate. But issues of food and constitutionality aren't just U.S. concerns. For more on the international scope of the matter, take a look at Constitutional and Legal Protection of the Right to Food Around the World, produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Another fascinating area of food law relates to advertising guidelines. When can you label your homemade ice cream "organic," "natural," or "local?" How can the company Tillamook claim rights to the name of a region, prohibiting other dairy farmers in the area from using that name? Is Seattle's Best Coffee really Seattle's best? The books The Little Red Book of Wine Law and The Little Book of Coffee Law may have the answers you're looking for and then some.
Bon Appétit!

Images courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art.

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