Over the past couple years I’ve heard an awful lot about a documentary called “Food Inc.” Many of my friends source it as a stimulant for changing their diet or becoming more selective about what brands they support. I finally watched it this weekend and it was amazing. Terrifying, but amazing. If you haven’t seen it you definitely should check it out (I watched it off Documentary Addict). If anything, it’ll help you rethink your purchasing power as a consumer. The documentary covers so many topics I’ll probably reference it in other posts, but today I’m very much concerned with one thing: veggie libel laws.
What’s a veggie libel law?
More formally known as food disparagement laws, veggie libel laws give food producers the power to sue critics of its products for libel. They were passed in 13 states including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas.
Why are these laws even a thing?
Food producers realized that sales significantly decreased when their products were mentioned to be unsafe or unhealthy or [insert other negative descriptors here].
My sassy thought process: Wow! You mean negative feedback can affect your sales? Must be an entirely new concept very specific to the food industry. Hey, how about let’s take away freedom of speech so we can produce food that may or may not be up to health standards and no one can say anything about it.
What would be considered “libel”?
Technically “libel” is a false statement that damages one’s reputation. There are a lot of gray areas about this, especially because sometimes opinions can come across as factual assertions in a certain context.
One of the most well-known cases of a veggie libel lawsuit is the lawsuit between Oprah and the meat industry. Oprah was sued by the meat industry after talking about her fears of eating hamburgers after learning about the practices of beef product producers and its connection to “Mad Cow Disease”. On the show Oprah said she was “stopped cold from eating another burger.” This episode apparently had a devastating impact on beef sales. Thankfully she won the case, but her legal fees amounted to more than one million dollars.
I’m baffled that these laws can even exist given that they limit the freedom of speech and create a chilling effect, which discourages people from exercising their natural rights out of fear. Further, it seems as though the laws are being invoked more for opinions than false disparagement of food products. If there’s any industry that should be open to criticism from its consumer population its the food industry because preservation of health should be top priority in all of our lives and to our government. It’s evident that these laws were created to squash the voice of the little guys and protect the big corporations. If you’d like to learn more about these laws, this video gives a pretty solid history and overview.
How do you feel about these laws? Do you think it’s right to limit our freedom of speech to stabilize food sales? Will you be more wary of what you say about meat and other food products?