Do you live in one of these states? Watch what you say about your food…

Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas…

Corporate farms have seen to it that you can’t say bad things about the things they make.  For quite some time now–almost 20 years–you haven’t been able to say bad things about your food.  If you have, you’re lucky that wrong people didn’t hear you.  Because, like Oprah, you would have had to spend millions of dollars to defend yourself in court.  You see, Food Libel laws were written with a much different standard than other libel laws.  These laws abandon “the traditional common law product disparagement cause of action.  In its place, many of them punish protected expression, establish a lower standard for civil liability, and allow for punitive damages and attorneys fees for plaintiffs alone, and lend themselves to abusive litigation practices” (http://www.cspinet.org/foodspeak/oped/candm.htm).  If you publicly say something that is not absolutely scientifically true, you could be called to account.  The threat that you could be sued with no hope to recoup your legal costs is quite quieting.  The burden of proof, in these cases, is on the defendant.

Do you ever wonder why there’s so little coverage of the big corporate farms and the negative impact they have on local communities? Certainly, there’s a concern that huge food corporations will cut their advertising spending.  The food industry spent $3.3 billion between January and June of this year alone. Add to that the possibility that the media organization doing the reporting could be sued at the mere hint that these laws might have been violated and the picture comes very clear.  Why on earth would anyone risk a comment or new story on the food industry practices and/or the quality of a food product?

I can’t understand how these laws don’t violate First Amendment rights.  As noted in other places, what if, years ago, there were rules about tobacco like these?  What if you couldn’t even ask the questions that force an industry to be transparent?  Regular, thoughtful people who live in the situations created by these corporations  are restricted in their ability to ask questions or challenge practices.

In a time when agri-business is such a powerful lobbying group and can work behind closed doors to pass laws in their favor, it seems completely counter to the democratic process that we, the people who literally consume their products, can’t raise speculation or demand answers.  When will interests of the people again become the priority?  Why can the rights of corporations supersede the rights of citizens?

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