There ought to be a law
Lawyers as public health nutrition superheroes? Really? Don Barrett sued
Big Tobacco and won. Now he is after Big Food. Big Booze and Big Snack
Pictured above is Don Barrett. He is an attorney from Lexington, Mississippi. As depicted in the movie The Insider starring Russell Crowe and Al Pacino, he and colleagues sued Big Tobacco in the US and forced them to admit that cigarettes are addictive. The legal settlements cost the industry over $US 200 billion – yes, billion.
Now Don Barrett is after Big Food, as summarised on our home page this month. His lawsuits are class actions, where the class is defined as every person who purchased one of the misbranded products in the previous four years. He says that if the labelling and advertising of a product is proved to be misleading, consumers are entitled to have their money back. 'If it cost $1.25 then the customer is entitled to his $1.25 back. And there's a four-year statute of limitations, so the damages in each of these cases is how much have they sold of this misbranded junk in the last four years.
'One of the potato chip [crisp] companies that we're sueing sells $US 13 billion worth of product a year.' So damages could eventually get into the Big Tobacco range. We may like to think that public health problems are solved by public health professionals. In reality, and throughout history, the armies fighting for improved public health that win the wars are led by people from a range of professions, and these include lawyers. Perhaps Emilia Sanabria, the Association's new membership secretary, should approach Don Barrett to become a life member…
He says: 'There's one thing that corporate America pays attention to, and that's getting hit in the pocketbook. It's all about profit. And it's only when you affect their profit that you will affect their behaviour, and we intend to do that.' Could be very interesting…
A tale of ten Nobelists
Once again Philip James, in his 'As I see it' column, uncovers a remarkable story of how public health policy is made. Please turn to the column to read all about 'The Copenhagen Consensus'. Here's the deal. Every four years a panel of Nobel Prize winners is assembled in Copenhagen, briefed with a bunch of theme papers compiled by experts. They are asked to decide what would be the best use of $US 75 billion spent over a four-year period, to solve the world's problems – or in the phrase of the self-confident Consensus convenor Bjørn Lomberg, what are 'the smartest ways to save the world'. Sounds like an imaginative combination of eminence-based and evidence-based policy-making, and the Copenhagen Consensus decisions so far are reliably reckoned to have influenced policy decisions of the US and perhaps other governments.
Sounds good? Well, Philip has taken a closer look. First, who sets the agenda for the theme papers? This is a misty process. Who decides on which experts to compile the theme papers? Also not clear. Next, what type of Nobelist? They are all economists, and therefore all US citizens or based in the US – almost inevitably, for in the last 20 years, 34 of the 38 economics Nobel prizes have gone to US people.
Does this, how to say, introduce a bias? It certainly seems to result in a venerable panel: here are the 2012 Copenhagen consensualists below, whose average age is 80. (Nancy Stokey, right in the picture below, from Chicago, is not a Nobelist, although her husband is). It also results in a focus on monetarist approaches, because that's now the ideology of most US economists, despite the overwhelming evidence that monetarism is not working and that we are now living in a world of market failure.
The 2012 Copenhagen consensualists: Vernon Smith, Robert Mundell, Thomas Schelling, Finn Kydland, Nancy Stokey, all economists from the US
So are the recommendations of the 2012 panel generally in the direction of 'we, who have the power and who are rich, will give money to them who are poor, to solve their problems'? Yes, they are. Is this a problem? It certainly is.
But then digging a little deeper, was it inevitable that in choosing a panel of eminent Nobel economics prizewinners, that the monetarist approach would hold sway? No, it was not, as shown by the pictures below. These are also of five living Nobel economics prizewinners. All of them challenge monetarism in one way and another, and have a broad view of the limitations and uses of economics in social, cultural, environmental and other contexts. Look up their Wikipedia entries. Why did they not form the Copenhagen Consensus panel? Why was none of them on the panel? The plot, as they say, thickens.
Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Daniel Kahneman, Robert Fogel (with wife),
Amartya Sen: Nobelists not engaged in the Copenhagen Consensus process
And if say two or three of them had been on the panel, would the resulting recommendations have been more politically sensitive, socially conscious, and concerned with issues such as equity, justice, human rights, and independence? This seems rather likely...
We get around
Finally for this month, here is a snippet from our relatively new 'I get around' column, in which usually young Association members tell their recent stories. This month it's Jean-Claude Moubarac, who has just come back from his native Canada, where he enjoyed his mother's native Lebanese cooking. Here it is:
Here is what I came back to Canada to savour, as prepared by my mother: her Egyptian Molokheyyah soup (left) and then stuffed vine leaves (right)
And in Jean-Claude's own words: The Molokheyyah is known for its nutritional richness, because the leaves contain a lot of beta-carotene, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and a multitude of other vitamins, minerals and trace elements. The plant has a potent antioxidant activity with significant amounts of alpha-tocopherol. The gummy fibre of its mucilage is a natural laxative, and can be used to treat a lot of digestive problems. Molokheyyah also tastes wonderful and can be eaten in various ways, with for example with rabbit or shrimp rather than chicken.
'My way of eating Molokheyyah follows my father: first a bowl of soup without rice, and then a second helping with rice plus vinegar and hot and crusty pitta bread. I recently told my wife that we must learn how to prepare it. It's not complicated, but like any good thing in life it takes some time'.