More than a few words of truth are uttered in jest, and one political cartoon that has seen wide circulation lately contains a particularly grim joke for the supermarket industry. Let's just hope it isn't true.
The cartoon, by Ted Rall (Universal Press Syndicate), shows four frames. The first one sets up the premise with the overline, "Even though Democrats and Republicans are virtually identical, politics has become so worthless that nothing gets done anymore."
The next frame continues with this overline, "So cities are taking on big tobacco and gun violence by suing cigarette and gun companies into bankruptcy." In that frame are two characters. The balloon over one has him saying, "Next we're suing the grocery industry for the health costs associated with obesity and reading women's magazines." The other character, apparently some kind of official, replies, "Balanced budget, here we come!"
Following up, the third frame reads, "Who cares that guns and butts are legal? The Legislative branch of the government has abdicated, and the Judiciary is picking up the slack." The final frame predicts "... the death of the Executive branch, and the court system coup d' etat!"
There's probably more than a little truth in the observation that Legislative lack of will and gridlock created a climate that seemed to call for lawsuits against tobacco companies. That action set the example; guns were next. Indeed, about 30 local governmental jurisdictions have brought suit against gun makers, with mixed results.
But the point is that the way to make an end run around the Legislative branch is highlighting itself with great clarity. And so, can food manufacturers and retailers be far behind as pressure groups seek a means to effectuate their agenda?
Perhaps the suggestion in the cartoon cited above that supermarkets could be sued for an association with obesity or fluff magazines is exaggerated. At least we'll presume so. But, regrettably, the advent of "functional foods" could play right into the hands of those who might seek judicial remedies.
At the moment there's a plethora of food-related products that are making or implying some benefit through their consumption. Maybe that claim has to do with vitamin or calcium enhancement. Maybe it's a spread or snack bar or salad dressing that claims to lower cholesterol. Maybe it's a grain product that claims heart or digestive or bone benefits. Products such as these are claiming nearly $3 billion in annualized sales. Tonnage remains on the low side; price points are large.
In all likelihood, some of these products will prove to be ineffective, or ineffective in the quantities in which anyone would actually consume them. Or maybe the benefit will simply be impossible to demonstrate. And, looking beyond foods of these sorts, there lurks the lawsuit potential genetically modified products may bring to the game. Indeed, last week Monsanto Co. was sued on a related safety allegation.
Here's hoping the joke in the political cartoon doesn't turn out to be prophetic. But, all things considered, it would be remarkable if it doesn't.