Food Disparagement: A Threat to Freedom of Speech? Request for Assistance in Tracking

Agribusiness interests have pushed through laws designed to make the expression of critical ideas about food production seem too costly. These laws are working outside of actual courtrooms and out of public view. Corporations have gotten food disparagement laws passed in 13 states, essentially making it a litigation risk to say anything critical about food. Now that the laws have been passed, the same corporate interests use them as leverage to silence their critics, frequently sending letter to those who speak out or those who publish them, threatening to sue under these menacing laws.

Have you or someone you know received similar threats? Have you felt the effects of your voice getting silenced? We ask you to send in copies of any threats of litigation using food disparagement laws as their premise, any other evidence of corporate control of what we can say about how food is produced, or any other effects you have felt. We will keep your confidence (some of us are nearly lawyers and understand this stuff). Please email your anecdotes and pdf copies of any written threats topaulaznyc@gmail.com or ask for a mailing address to send photocopies. For more information and some examples of threats to sue under these laws in action, go to http://signalinterference.wordpress.com/.

Signal Interference’s primary researcher is Paula Z. Segal, a Haywood Burns Fellow in Civil and Human Rights at the City University of New York Law School at Queens College. Her work focuses on access to land, inclusive democratic processes and working towards a just, sustainable and sane food system. Ms. Segal does legal research for the Brooklyn Food Coalition and is on the editorial board of the New York City Law Review. She is also guest blogger at Our Rights, Our Future, the blog of the National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights.

More on Food Disparagement Laws:

  • Bederman, David. Remarks Limitations on Commercial Speech: The Evolution of Agricultural Disparagement Statutes, 10 DePaul Bus. L. J. 169, 173 (1998).
  • Bederman, David J. Food Libel: Litigating Scientific Uncertainty In A Constitutional Twilight Zone, 10 DePaul Bus. L. J. 191, 217 n. 149 (1998).
  • Goetz, Thomas. Venerable Talk Show Host Gets First Taste of Food Disparagement Laws, Village Voice April 29, 1997, 39, available athttp://www.organicconsumers.org/disparg.html.
  • Jones, Ellen Gay. Forbidden Fruit: Talking About Pesticides and Food Safety in the Era of Agricultural Product Disparagement Laws, 66 Brook. L. Rev. 823 (2001).
  • Lynch, Colleen K.. Disregarding the Marketplace of Ideas: A Constitutional Analysis of Agricultural Disparagement Statutes, 18 J.L. & Com. 167, 178 (1998).