CSPI NEWS RELEASE

For Immediate Release:
April 29, 1998

Contact:

Mike Jacobson
(202) 332-9110, ext.328

Penelope Miller
(202) 332-9110, ext. 358

STATEMENT OF MICHAEL F. JACOBSON, Ph.D.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST

PRESS CONFERENCE ON ‘VEGGIE-LIBEL’ LAWS
April 29, 1998

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is exactly the kind of group that veggie-libel laws are aimed at. We noisily report on the kinds of matters that make some in the food industry uneasy: We publicize the contribution of meat and cheese to heart disease, the risks posed by bacterial contamination in eggs and seafood, and the dangers associated with certain food additives, among other things.

Of course, we have long held high standards in what we report to the press and public and have never been sued for defamation in our quarter-century of activism. Even so, food-disparagement laws jeopardize our activities, and those of any consumer group, in two ways. First, those laws make it far too easy for industry to sue any of us for just speaking the truth as we see it. The baseless lawsuit against Amy Simpson and the Ohio Public Interest Research Group proves that.

Second, in keeping with the purpose of the First Amendment, consumer groups rely on the media to report our messages to the public for its consideration. But the media cannot convey those messages if they fear being sued or if the practical, legal, and economic costs of consumer reporting become too high. "Veggie-libel" laws do just that -- they take the free out of free speech. The public’s right to know is rendered meaningless when consumer groups fear to speak and the press fears to report what they say.

We launched FoodSpeak to fight the food industry’s effort to silence consumer advocates and the media. Today, the FoodSpeak Project begins a campaign to take back the First Amendment. To that end, the Coalition will work with local organizations to repeal existing "veggie-libel" laws and to oppose all proposed laws. The Coalition will also join in lawsuits to defend First Amendment rights. The Coalition is sending letters to governors, either urging them to support repeal efforts or to oppose proposed food-disparagement laws. Finally, today we have launched the FoodSpeak Web site -- www.cspinet.org/foodspeak -- to shed much-needed light on this matter and to better inform the public and press about it.

CSPI and the rest of the FoodSpeak Coalition will not be intimidated by the food industry’s self-serving and unconstitutional laws. That is the spirit underlying our effort -- the will to reclaim our rights as Americans, our freedom to speak out. We are excited about the opportunity to work on that with the many and diverse groups in the FoodSpeak Coalition.