Dumb lawsuits: less healthy than Nutella

30 04 2012

You’re a manufacturer of a delicious cocoa-hazelnut spread enjoying a new-found popularity in the United States. You’ve complied with all American food labeling laws, including providing a complete list of ingredients and nutritional information. Despite this, you’re now $3 million poorer – all because a pair of particularly litigious mothers couldn’t be troubled to combine a thorough reading of the label with a healthy serving of common sense.

Such is the predicament facing Ferrero, the Italian maker of Nutella after losing a class action lawsuit. Despite television commercials declaring the tasty spread to be a part of “a tasty yet balanced breakfast,” the sugary, calorie-laden condiment  – which is probably no worse for kids than sugary, calorie-laden breakfast cereals – is not, in fact, as boringly healthy as plain granola. That kids actually enjoyed slathering it on toast should have been a tip-off.

Oh yeah, this looks like a substitute for oatmeal

But the class action lawsuit against Ferrero isn’t just another example of ludicrous litigation. It’s an example of the type of legal abuse that undermines any notion of personal responsibility – and drives business into the protective arms of big government.

Leave any potentially misleading advertising aside for a moment. Ferrero never concealed the facts surrounding Nutella’s nutrition, or lack thereof. The company followed applicable labeling laws and still fell victim to individual stupidity (and greed) backed a court of enablers. The maker of Nutella may not be an international megacorporation with tentacles reaching into the halls of power. But faced with such legal capriciousness, it’s no wonder that powerful interest groups, including businesses large and small, spend billions every year to ensure that the scales are always tipped in their favor.

Getting business out of government and restoring individual responsibility are two equally Herculean tasks. The nutty Nutella verdict – and others like it – only serve to make those tasks that much more tricky.

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