Water Keeper's Lawsuit Judged Unreasonable
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July 16, 2002
New Reasons to Eat Meat
Less than a week after TIME magazine’s cover story on the mainstreaming of vegetarianism, new evidence is emerging about potential health dangers from observing a strict, meatless diet.
First, Swedish scientists at Umea University found that young vegans (those who shun all animal products, including eggs and dairy) may be missing out on essential vitamins and minerals. Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Christel L. Larson and Gunnar K. Johansson reported that vegans’ dietary habits “did not comply with the average requirements for some essential nutrients.” In particular, they found that vegans lacked appropriate levels of riboflavin, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, calcium, and selenium.
In an even more comprehensive British study involving nearly 8,000 subjects, a Cambridge University professor now says that children born to vegetarian mothers are up to five times more likely to be born with “deformities” and other birth defects. The scientist leading the research told a Europe Intelligence Wire reporter that “there is a clear association between child deformities and vegetarianism, and this is a cause for concern.”
Kennedy (finally) Hog-Tied by the Courts
In a stunning blow to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s personal jihad against the U.S. pork industry, a federal judge in Tampa has dismissed a lawsuit brought against pork producer Smithfield Foods by lawyers representing Kennedy and his organization, the Water Keeper Alliance. Even more embarrassing for the silver-spooned environmentalist: Kennedy and his legal team have been ordered to pay Smithfield’s attorney fees and court costs.
In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich wrote that the Water Keeper Alliance’s legal complaint “failed to state anything at all” worthwhile, and that “no reasonable attorney… could reasonably believe that [the lawsuit] had any reasonable chance of success.”
Kennedy’s lawsuit, which literally accused Smithfield of racketeering (among other things) was just his latest in a long line of attacks on American livestock agriculture. In a tour of Midwestern towns earlier this year, Kennedy compared domestic pork producers to Osama bin Laden, saying that they represented “[a] threat… greater than that in Afghanistan.” But Farmers shouldn't expect an apology , says the Des Moines Register, noting that Iowa residents saw Kennedy’s comments “simply as an attack on agriculture.”
Despite this recent judicial setback, Water Keeper attorney Dan Estrin told the Associated Press that the Water Keeper Alliance still has two pending North Carolina lawsuits, and “those cases are alive and well.” But why press onward? Follow the money: Kennedy himself has estimated that the right lawsuit could bring “damages” of up to $13 billion (that’s “billion,” with a B). Divide the likely attorney’s “commissions” among Water Keeper’s 11-firm legal dream team, and Kennedy’s own two-partner law office could have a $200 million payday.
Speaking for the Water Keepers, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has made no bones about his endgame, telling the Los Angeles Times: “I promise you this: We will march across this country and we will bring these kind of lawsuits against every single pork factory in America if we have to.” And referring to beef and poultry producers, he has also warned: “We’re starting with hogs. After the hogs, then we are going after the other ones.”
"We’re starting with hogs. After we get done with the hogs, then we’re gonna go after the other ones."
— Waterkeeper Alliance president Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., December 6, 2000
"Why don’t we put them out of business?"
— Charles Speer, one of the attorneys in charge of recruiting other lawyers to attack the pork industry, quoted in the Wilmington (NC) Morning Star, January 12, 2001
"We have attorneys now who have money and they know what they’re doing. They are the best in the country and we are going to put an end to this industry."
— Kennedy, on NPR’s Weekend Edition, February 18, 2001
"We will march across this country and we will bring these kind of lawsuits against every single pork factory in America if we have to…. Whatever it takes to win."
— Kennedy, in the Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2001
"You don’t hire a child molester to run a nursery school. It’s a conflict of interest."
— Riverkeeper founder Robert H. Boyle in the New York Times (Nov. 5, 2000) after Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. hired a convicted environmental felon as the organization’s chief scientific analyst
"He [RFK Jr.] is very reckless. He’s assumed an arrogance above his intellectual stature."
— Robert Boyle, after Robert F. Kennedy hired a convicted environmental felon as the group’s chief scientific analyst, as quoted in the New York Post, June 22, 2000
The Waterkeeper Alliance has declared war on America’s pork industry, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is in charge of the battle plan. Officially, Waterkeeper is a coalition of more than 80 “neighborhood watch” programs for America’s rivers, bays, and shorelines. But this is thin political cover for the real coalition here -- one of big-money trial lawyers (many of them still counting their tobacco-settlement fees) who see billion-dollar payouts where most consumers see ribs, ham, and bacon.
Kennedy’s involvement with the group dates back to the mid-1980s, when he was a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office. According to Kennedy’s own accounts, he was also a secret heroin addict, disguising himself and visiting Harlem to buy illegal drugs by night. That double life caught up with him in 1984 when he was arrested and charged with heroin possession. As part of a plea arrangement, Kennedy was sentenced to 800 hours of community service, which he worked off by volunteering at the Hudson River Foundation. This group was later absorbed by the Hudson Riverkeepers, the Waterkeeper Alliance’s flagship constituent group.
Today, the nerve center of the Robert Kennedy environmental empire consists of three groups: the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Hudson Riverkeepers (sometimes known simply as “Riverkeeper”), and the Pace University Environmental Law Clinic, where Waterkeeper and Riverkeeper both keep a mailing address. The group functions as one.
The larger enviro-conglomerate has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Robert Kennedy since June of 2000 (see “Black Eye”); around that time, he began trading on his family name in order to assemble a “dream team” of attorneys who were interested in applying to pork producers the legal model made famous by tobacco lawyers. Assisted by long-time Kennedy family friends like Hiram Eastland and Jan Schlichtmann (of A Civil Action fame), Kennedy has recruited lawyers from 15 national law firms, most in states where hog farming has a significant presence. One such attorney, Richard H. Middleton, Jr., is the immediate past president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (and still runs the trial lawyers’ Political Action Committee).
Each firm has committed itself to an initial $50,000 ante, which is pocket change compared to the size of the awards these lawyers are hoping for. In January of 2001, Kennedy himself estimated potential “damages” against the pork industry at $9-13 billion. If they prevail, the lawyers will keep a huge percentage for themselves.
About half of the law firms contributing attorney-muscle to Kennedy’s crusade have experience suing tobacco companies (the ultimate legal cash cow). Likewise, about half are involved with class-action suits against antibiotic manufacturer Bayer. It’s interesting to note that on January 18, 2002 Kennedy joined Environmental Defense’s Rebecca Goldburg in a press conference denouncing Bayer for its continued marketing of the livestock antibiotic Baytril. One might imagine being a fly on the wall when Kennedy and his stable of lawyers agreed to publicly attack each other’s sworn enemies, confident that the connection would arouse no public concern.
In addition to these lawyers’ deep pockets, the Waterkeeper Alliance stays afloat through foundation support, individual wealthy donors, celebrity ski events at the Vail resort, and a for-profit company called Tear of the Clouds LLC, which sells Keeper Springs bottled water. A combination of slick marketing and Kennedy cachet has placed this product in supermarkets all across America. Every penny of profits goes to support the Waterkeepers and their anti-agribusiness campaign.
The master plan? Make reckless claims that hog producers are polluting our rivers -- even though they’re already subject to some of the strictest environmental regulations in the United States, and it’s typically large-scale hog farms that receive environmental awards (in April 2001 Smithfield subsidiary Carroll Farms became the first livestock operation in the entire United States to receive the prestigious ISO 14001 environmental certification). Make vicious threats about dragging the pork industry into court and shutting it down -- forgetting all of the American jobs at stake. And when the cameras are rolling, make absolutely sure that Kennedy is front and center to generate sympathetic media coverage.
Already, the Waterkeeper legal machine has filed suit in North Carolina, Missouri, and Florida, demanding triple damages under the same RICO statutes (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) used by prosecutors to combat modern-day organized crime families. Along with the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Sierra Club, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the rabidly anti-consumer National Farmers Union are co-plaintiffs in these legal actions.
The effort suffered a setback in March 2001 when the first round of lawsuits was thrown out of court by a North Carolina judge who ruled that the plaintiffs had “failed to state a single claim” warranting a trial, much less a financial award. Still, Kennedy insists that his legal team will prevail. “We have lawyers with the deepest pockets,” he told the Associated Press on April 18, 2001, “and they’ve agreed to fight the industry to the end. We’re going to go after all of them.”
Does the Waterkeeper Alliance want to rid America’s tables of bacon, sausage, and everything else that comes from hogs? Not quite: when Kennedy talks about going after “the industry,” he’s only referring to large farms. Companies like Smithfield, Premium Standard, Bell Farms, Seaboard Farms, Cargill, Land O’Lakes, and Hormel -- companies which employ tens of thousands of Americans. Companies that already have to obey countless state and federal regulations, including a whole regimen from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Kennedy plans to keep suing until he finds a judge who will see things his way; at that point, his hope is that large-scale corporate pork producers won’t be able to absorb multi-billion-dollar judgments against them. This would open the market up for “sustainable” pork producers, whose products are marketed as “organic,” “free-range,” or “environmentally friendly.” Why aren’t these products particularly successful on their own? They cost more. Nearly twice as much per pound as conventionally produced pork, in some markets.
On January 11, 2001, Robert Kennedy was the keynote speaker at a “Sustainable Hog Farming Summit” held on the banks of the Neuse River in New Bern, North Carolina. Multi-millionaire lawyers lectured on “Using Class Actions and Tort Law to Hold Meat Factories Accountable,” while environmental campaigners warned of the evils of “Big Pork” and animal-rights activists touted Sweden’s “humane” hog industry as the example to follow (In Sweden, by the way, pork typically costs the equivalent of $11 per pound).
This might sound like a rather improbable way for environmental zealots to run amok, but Kennedy and the Waterkeeper lawyers just might win a significant payoff from their anti-corporate jihad. A big enough jury verdict (remember, tobacco companies were on the hook for $360 billion) could force mainstream corporate producers from the marketplace entirely, drastically raising food prices and ultimately narrowing the choices open to American consumers.
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