New “veggie hate crime” law awards triple damages for food disparagement
OHIO–Ohio became the twelfth state to enact a product disparagement or “trade libel” law in early February when Governor Voinovich signed a bill that will allow those in the agriculture industry to recover triple damages for the disparagement of any perishable food product.
The act defines “disparagement” as “the dissemination to the public in any manner of any false information that a perishable agricultural or aquacultural food product is not safe for human consumption.”
The law allows farmers, distributors and retailers to recover “up to three times” the amount of compensatory damages suffered as a result of the disparagement as well as punitive damages and attorney fees. The plaintiff must prove that the person who disseminated the information knew or should have known that the information was false.
The act defines “false information” as “any information that is not based upon reasonable and reliable scientific inquiry, facts, or data, and that directly indicates that a perishable agricultural or aquacultural product is not safe for human consumption.”
The 11 states with similar statutes are Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas.
Even in states that have not enacted specific legislation, the news media can face food disparagement lawsuits. Apple growers in Washington sued CBS in 1989 after a “60 Minutes” segment focused on an apple-growth chemical called Alar. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Seattle (9th Cir.) dismissed that suit in early October 1995, finding that the apple growers failed to prove falsity. In late February, the plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. (House Bill 352)