Monday, March 7, 2016

Say Cheese

Here is another example of how the news media tries to stir us up and how the lawyers play on that emotional peak to their own benefit.  Last week a second set of headlines appeared, building on the original headlines from the middle of February, which were the result of a three-year-old investigation. 

Let me explain.  In November 2012 FDA investigated complaints about Castle Cheese, a family-owned business in Pennsylvania.  They found that the company was adding excess cellulose to their grated cheese as a cheap filler to keep costs down.  Cellulose is a safe additive, and an acceptable level is 2 to 4 percent.  Their findings led to a wider investigation.  “Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, from Jewel-Osco, was 8.8 percent cellulose, while Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese registered 7.8 percent, according to test results. Whole Foods 365 brand didn’t list cellulose as an ingredient on the label, but still tested at 0.3 percent. Kraft had 3.8 percent.”

In the middle of last month the news resurfaced as Castle Cheese Company admitted wrongdoing and Universal Cheese & Drying, Inc. and International Packing LLC also pled guilty to “conspiring to introduce misbranded cheese.” Each corporation faces a $500,000 fine, and one Castle executive faces a large fine plus jail time.  "The Department of Justice prosecutes people and companies who introduce adulterated or misbranded food into interstate commerce.”

It’s good that they were caught.  Consumers should be able to believe that what’s on the label is what’s in the package.  It’s a common enough problem with dietary supplements, but you should expect more from the dairy industry.  Most grated cheese packages do list cellulose as an ingredient to reduce clumping, but look at how the first sentence of this article reads:  “If you’re like most of us, you were devastated to learn that packaged parmesan cheese — beloved and generously sprinkled by many — is probably at least eight to 10 percent wood pulp and other fillers.”  Devastated? – Get a grip!  It’s only cheese – and not beloved cheese!  Notice also how they reword cellulose as wood pulp to get an extra emotional response.  It makes it look like you are eating the leftovers from a sawmill.  However, this other website points out that parts of trees, including “wood, bark, roots, leaves, flowers, fruits or seeds,” are used in many traditional and modern medicines.

Apparently some were devastated, devastated enough to call lawyers or respond to calls from them.  Two short weeks later the Chicago Tribune reported that lawsuits were flying in.  On February 26, an Illinois woman filed a class action lawsuit against Kraft Heinz claiming violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.  Suits against that company had already been filed in federal courts in three other states.

When filing class action lawsuits, you can’t forget Wal-Mart! Another plaintiff “claims he was induced to purchase Great Value's ‘100% Grated Parmesan Cheese’ at a premium price because he believed it was, indeed, 100 percent cheese.”  Wal-Mart is accused of deceptive business practices because the cheese allegedly contains 7 to 10 percent cellulose.  The attorney in this case says that it “isn't about consumers getting sick…people are still buying the product based on the label, and families are being put off. Imagine giving that to your kid with their pasta..." 

Imagine that!  It’s not even about people (or children) getting sick.  We are supposed to be shocked by the idea of all the suffering that results from being induced to buy substandard cheese, especially if we are jurors.  (I remember when children used to eat the paste in art class or put bits of paper in their mouths to make spitballs.  And isn’t paper made from wood pulp?)  All that doesn’t matter.  If you have no perspective, you immediately react to these things, as you are urged to do by the media and the lawyers, and find it outrageous calling for some compensation to the poor consumers, the victims of this deception – and, of course, compensation to their attorneys.

If you have no economic understanding you don’t get how the companies primarily involved have already been punished and how further action merely shuffles around money adding absolutely no value to the economy.  It’s a waste of time and resources, and likely increases our costs as these defendants and their insurance companies pass costs along to their customers.  Then we wonder why the economy and jobs are not booming.  America's lack of perspective and economic understanding may be contributors.

By the way, Castle also made Market Pantry cheese sold at Target also at 3,400 stores controlled by Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc., based in Kansas City, and both those companies have “deep pockets.”  So stand by for more legal action (more distribution and more waste).

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