STATEMENT of RALPH NADER
in Support of the FoodSpeak Campaign
April 29, 1998
For over 200 hundred years, our country's legal systems have refused to recognize "product libel." People can maliciously libel a human being and be required to pay damages; but not inanimate products such as Corvairs, Pinto fuel tanks, asbestos, the Dalkon Shield, fruits, vegetables and meat products.
Robust debate and criticism have turned surmises and suspicions and anathemas into discoveries or recognition of facts and truths. One has only to look back at our history and see how the dissenters of the past -- criticizing tobacco, coal dust, useless over-the-counter drugs and a variety of health-damaging food additives and pesticides -- have been proven right again and again.
Certainly the food companies and their well-funded trade associations have the money and other means to counter with their positions. Indeed, public tax dollars at the U.S. Department of Agriculture service several of these food and fiber promotion budgets that industry checkoffs finance to disseminate television and print advertisements almost every day.
Now, it seems, corporations want to do what King George III, foreign dictators and bad domestic political bosses were unable to do -- shut up the American people.
The realistic objective of the frivolous "veggie-libel" statutes and lawsuits is not money; it is to send a chilling message to millions of people that they better keep their opinions to themselves.
Veggie libel and other SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) suits are not about the kinds of behavior, actions and damage to human beings that give rise to product defect and medical malpractice lawsuits. They are suits about people's right to speak their views -- what the founders fought for in the American Revolution.
Free speech is perhaps the most fundamental of all freedoms because it gives rise to other freedoms. Stifling free speech by well-funded harassment suits, that get thrown out of court, is serious and deserves a judicial and legislative response.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Ralph Nader (202) 387-8030
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