Few would assert that frozen pizzas are good for you. But are they a toxic carcinogen? A California woman thinks so, and she’s lodged a multimillion-dollar lawsuit to prove it.
Katie Simpson of San Diego filed the $5 million suit against Nestle this week, contending the company’s various brands of frozen pizza contain dangerous levels of trans fat. By not removing the offending fat from the pizzas, the suit alleges that the company is “placing profits over public health,” according to ABC News.
Simpson’s lawyer, Greg Watson, tells the network, “We want all the money they have ever made from the frozen pizzas.”
Regarding Simpson's consumption of the products, Watson added, “Katie has two young children, and she likes to make pizza for them, and all kids love pizza.”
We hope he manages to come up with a better argument in court.
The suit targets the Nestle-owned brands DiGiorno, Stouffer’s and California Pizza Kitchen. While CPK was quick to distance itself from the suit, issuing a statement saying that the claim is not aimed at its restaurants, only frozen pizzas sold under the California Pizza Kitchen name, Nestle has no such easy out.
Whether Simpson is a public health crusader or out to make some quick cash to satisfy her kids’ apparently insatiable appetite for frozen pizza, her suit has put Nestle in the awkward position of defending its use of one of the most widely condemned ingredients in the food industry.
Trans fat has been banned from restaurants in California, New York City and Philadelphia, owing to its strong correlation with heart disease. (While Simpson’s suit alleges trans fat is carcinogenic, the science still seems iffy on that claim.)
According to the Mayo Clinic, “When it comes to fat, trans fat is considered by some doctors to be the worst type of fat. Unlike other fats, trans fat — also called trans-fatty acids — both raises your ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol and lowers your ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol. A high LDL cholesterol level in combination with a low HDL cholesterol level increases your risk of heart disease, the leading killer of men and women.”
The Mayo Clinic website goes on to point out that it’s not always easy for consumers to know whether they’re eating trans fat. Federal regulations allow manufacturers to list “0 grams trans fat” on their nutrition labels so long as a single serving contains less than .5 grams of the fat. But if you eat more than the serving size listed on the label (e.g., more than just those two cookies), you could be taking in far more trans fat than what doctors think is safe—especially considering that many doctors think no amount of trans fat is safe.
(The Mayo Clinic advises consumers to look for “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oil among the list of ingredients—even if the label reads “0 grams trans fat,” its in there if partially hydrogenated oil is.)
Which brings us back to Nestle. The company has already posted a video on YouTube featuring the president of its pizza division, Paul Bakus, and Chavanne Hanson, one of the company's dieticians (and “a mom with kids who love pizza!”). Its an entertaining two-and-a-half minutes of carefully calibrated, corporate-lawyer-vetted companyspeak.
“Our pizzas are absolutely safe and in strict compliance with the requirements of the USDA and FDA,” Bakus maintains, while Hanson gives a rather dry and not-at-all-comforting science lesson on where trans fats come from, only to tell us that, “At Nestle, we’re on a journey to take [trans-fatty acids] out of our foods and beverages.”
You might want to speed that “journey” up.
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Jason Best has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council. He writes about food, sustainability and the environment.