Cheese eating causes obesity, clogged arteries and several other yet-to-be-determined life-threatening diseases. Cheese may also attract mice to your household.

This all sounds very ridiculous until you start reading headlines about the obese kids that are suing fast food restaurants because cheeseburgers, fries and malts made the kids fat. These innocent young people were literally forced to eat these horrible foods three or more times a day.

That’s right: Lawyers are arguing that fast foods are addictive. They are also telling the courts that restaurants aren’t doing enough to tell people about the hazardous content of the foods being served. The lawyers probably don’t even know it, but they are laying the ground work for a warning label.

The food police have just upped their ante. These lawyers and their fast-food suits make Michael Jacobson (Center for Science in the Public Interest) look like a pansy. All he has ever wanted to do is make a few one-day headlines to support his fund-raising efforts and, of course, tax “junk” foods.

This all sounds very ridiculous until you hear George Bush’s Surgeon General say: “Being overweight and obesity may soon cause as much preventable disease and death as cigarette smoking.” Hey, Buddy, can I bum a cheese stick?

As manufacturers of dairy products, we need to take these lawsuits seriously. It won’t suffice to simply blast away at the bozos and their lawyers. McDonald’s and Wendy’s and Burger King are in today’s headlines. But food manufacturers are next. Investment analysts are already taking note.

Last month, a UBS Warburg analyst concluded that the pressure already being put on manufacturers is creating “a clear long-term risk … that anti-obesity measures will curb their ability to grow revenues in the future.” The pressure has just begun.

Wait until the imitators start to line up behind the initial suits. Wait until the lawsuits start targeting more manufacturers, not just the purveyors of fast foods. Cheese won’t be the only dairy food sporting a warning label.

This all sounds very ridiculous until you realize that when kids are raised with Bart Simpson as a role model, obesity is just one of numerous issues society will need to face as successive generations march up to the fast food counter.

This all sounds very ridiculous until we learn that two-thirds of all adults and 13 percent of all children in this country are now considered overweight. Obesity and being overweight are now credited with 300,000 deaths a year vs. about 400,000 deaths due to smoking.

We, the food industry and the nation, have a very serious problem. And dairy foods are both part of the problem and part of the solution. We need to roll up our collective sleeves and contribute to the solution or we are not going to like the solution.

If I were a dairy manufacturer and marketer, I’d be doing several things:

  • Asking what my trade association thinks should be done given the current antics of the food police? Asking Dairy Management Inc and Milk PEP what they are doing? Asking how I can help?

  • Some of my product line is probably indulgent. So be it. Some of my product line is a ‘staple’ in some people’s diet and should be in others. What might I do to make it more healthful? Should I make it more healthful? Or is it just fine?

  • Are my nutritional labels truthful? Is there full disclosure? Have I told consumers about all of the good things in this product? Or have I just itemized the nutrients dictated by law – the bad-for-you nutrients?
Too many people weigh too much. Dairy needs to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We’ve known about many healthful attributes of dairy foods for a long time. Now, research is also suggesting that dairy has a role in weight control. It’s about time we raised the ante on the food police.