George Washington University Law School Professor John Banzhaf, who teaches “public interest” law, has issued a press release discussing recent class action claims against ConAgra over its “All Natural” cooking oil representations. According to Banzhaf, such litigation could be in the vanguard of many similar lawsuits against food companies that would be targeted by “both money-hungry lawyers and public-interest attorneys.”

He discusses the litigation that he and his students successfully filed against McDonald’s for allegedly misleading consumers about the content of the oil in which it cooks its French fries and notes that many manufacturers claiming to make “all natural” foods could be held liable in consumer fraud actions if the ingredients are genetically engineered or contain high-fructose corn syrup. Banzhaf concludes by suggesting, in light of Forbes calling obesity-related litigation “the next tobacco,” that “perhaps ‘all-natural’ is the next fat.”

Banzhaf made a name for himself decades ago by taking on cigarette manufacturers; he succeeded in requiring anti-smoking public-service advertisements on television to counter cigarette ads and imposing restrictions on smoking in airplanes. He prides himself on bringing lawsuits to promote the public interest and turned to obesity-related issues in 2001. In his press release about food litigation, Banzhaf states, “Many state consumer protection laws permit recovery for claims which might be deceptive or misleading even if only to uneducated people, and even if the claims are technically true.” He also observes that large financial recoveries are possible even when plaintiffs cannot show actual harm.