ARIZONA–In late April, Governor Fife Symington signed into law a bill that creates a cause of action against those who maliciously disseminate false information concerning the safety of farm products to the public.
The law, which has been called the “veggie hate crimes bill,” allows farmers, shippers and sellers to collect compensatory and punitive damages against an individual who intentionally spreads false information for the purpose of harming the farmer, shipper or seller. The statute also allows a successful party to collect cost and attorney fees.
In order to collect damages under the law, it must be proven that the person disseminating the information knew the information was false or should have known it was false. “False information” is defined as information not based on reliable scientific facts or data.
Since 1991, eight other states have enacted similar laws restricting the disparagement of food products. The legislative trend is related to an apple scare that followed a 1989 “60 Minutes” report on the health hazards associated with daminozide, or Alar, a chemical used to regulate apple growth. After the news report, apple sales and prices fell around the world.
In 1993, a U.S. District Court in Spokane, Wash. awarded summary judgment to CBS in a disparagement suit filed by the state’s apple growers. The court ruled that CBS’s report could not be proven false. The case is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals (9th Cir.) in Seattle. (H.B. 2257)
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.