Popcorn Addiction Leads to $7.2 Million Award for Human Lab Rat

By: Michael Seinberg

Remember a while back when scientists fed some lab rats the equivalent of hundreds of pounds of saccharin and then slapped warning labels all over the stuff when they developed cancer? Well, a guy in Denver managed to do much the same thing and enriched himself and his highly creative lawyer in the process to the tune of $7.2 million.

Wayne Watson of Denver,CO spent about 10 years consuming 2 bags of microwave popcorn every day. And nobody thought to check him into a rehab or at least call Weight Watchers? Anyway, over the course of that time, he developed a condition known as “popcorn lung”, which he claims reduced his lung capacity. The rare malady is named for workers in factories that make microwave popcorn and are exposed to a chemical called diacetyl – which, despite its scary sounding name, occurs as a natural byproduct of fermentation and is present in beer, wine, buttermilk and even real butter. The chemical is what is used to create the buttery taste in popcorn, since, God forbid, you wouldn’t want to clog your arteries with actual butter.

The verdict that Watson won was against the Kroger Co, which ran the supermarket that sold the popcorn, Glister-Mary Lee Corp., maker of the offending snack food, and the Dillon Companies, Inc. “They thought that no consumer would ever be exposed to enough of it to make a difference. Well they rolled the dice and they lose,” Watson said in a TV interview. Maybe they thought no consumer was dumb enough to eat that much popcorn for that long. Well, anyway, our enterprising lab rat even managed to settle claims against FONA International, Inc., which helped develop the flavoring. One wonders if he’ll go after the makers of his microwave oven next.

In the wake of this suit, some makers of microwave popcorn have stopped using diacetyl. Coincidently the chemical was also recently linked to Alzheimer’s, a fact that caused trial lawyers to begin salivating faster than Pavlov’s dogs. The bottom line is that if you consume too much of virtually any substance for long enough, there will almost always be adverse consequences. The old saying, “Moderation in all things,” obviously never made it to Watson’s ears. It certainly never made an impression on his lawyer either. Once again, a sympathetic jury has rewarded bad behavior and we all get to pay the price. At least in this case, Watson had a jury of his peers.