Food Safety Critics Need Free-Speech Protection;
Texas Law Is Too Strict

by
Ronald K.L. Collins

The following letter-to-the-editor appeared in the New York Times, January 26, 1998, section A, page 18. It was written in response to a New York Times op.-ed by University of Chicago Law Professor Cass Sunstein who defended the constitutionality of food-disparagement laws.

To the Editor:

Prof. Cass R. Sunstein's argument (Op-Ed, Jan. 22) was most surprising, not only for what it said but more important for what it failed to say. Mr. Sunstein paraphrases but part of the Texas food-disparagement law when he writes that "those who say what they know to be false must pay for the damage they have done." He makes no mention of that part of the law that provides: "In determining if information is false, the trier of fact shall consider whether the information was based on reasonable and reliable scientific inquiry, facts or data."

If this means that no one may make any public statement about food absent stacks of the latest scientific evidence, then few are likely to breathe a word in Mr. Sunstein's marketplace of ideas. Just consider what such a standard would have meant in the case of cigarettes, or might mean in the current debate over Olestra. Such a standard not only chills speech, it kills it.

 

RONALD K. L. COLLINS

Tacoma Park, Md., Jan. 22, 1998


[ Editorial & Op. Ed Page ]