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Response to Lytton

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 December 2010

Marion Nestle
Affiliation:
Department of Nutrition Food Studies and Public Health, New York University, NY 10012, USA
David S Ludwig
Affiliation:
Optimal Weight for Life Program, Department of Medicine, Children’s Hospital, Boston, MA 02115, USA
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Abstract

Type
Letter to the Editor
Copyright
Copyright © The Authors 2010

Madam,

In his thoughtful paper about front-of-package food labels, Timothy Lytton states that a ban on such labels would violate First Amendment provisions of the US Constitution. Lytton cites case law to argue that lower courts have consistently interpreted the First Amendment as providing guarantees of free commercial speech.

Indeed they have, and in 2003, the Bush Administration Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stopped defending against misleading health claims cases on First Amendment grounds.

We are not lawyers and make no pretense of arguing case law. However, it seems obvious to us that this interpretation of the First Amendment neither follows its original intent, nor promotes the public interest. The founding fathers clearly intended the First Amendment to guarantee the right of individuals to speak freely about religious and political matters, not the right of food companies to market junk foods to children and adults.

Laws are subject to reinterpretation and change, as the history of civil rights legislation makes clear. That politics influences interpretation of the law at the highest level is evident from the US Supreme Court’s decisions in Bush v. Gore (2000) and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010).

We think the time has come for major legal challenges to the right of corporations to mislead the public on the grounds of free speech. The front-of-package health claims controversy demands immediate attention. We hope that legal scholars will examine current food marketing practices in the light of the First Amendment and establish a firm legal basis for bringing this issue back to court. Lytton’s arguments make the need for such reconsideration perfectly evident.

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Response to Lytton
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