Statement of Amy Simpson
State Director of Ohio Public Interest Research Group
April 29, 1998, Washington, D.C.

    Good morning. My name is Amy Simpson and I am the State Director of the Ohio Public Interest Research Group (Ohio PIRG) a non-profit, non-partisan, consumer and environmental watchdog group based in Cleveland, Ohio.

    I am here today with this diverse coalition of groups to urge the repeal of the controversial veggie-libel laws. These laws are a menace to free speech in America, but for me this isn’t a hypothetical threat: I am currently being sued under a veggie-libel law. Before April of 1997, I didn’t even know what a veggie-libel law was. This changed the day I was called by a reporter for comment after it was announced that one of the largest egg producers in the world had filed suit against me and Ohio PIRG for "defaming" its eggs.

    A month earlier Ohio PIRG had discovered that AgriGeneral (now Buckeye Eggs) was rewashing old eggs, repackaging them and selling them as new -- with new expiration dates. We, as a consumer group, were appalled at this practice of backdating eggs. We had ample evidence of it. We had more than two dozen signed and sworn affidavits from egg workers who not only witnessed the practice, but engaged in it. When we released this important consumer information to the press, AgriGeneral reacted immediately. But rather than changing their shameful practices, AgriGeneral sued me.

    I was shocked to find out about the suit against me. Like most Americans, I believed that as long as what I said was true, I had the right to say it. In fact, I believed, and still do believe, that not only was it my right to speak out, but that it was my duty to do so. This lawsuit has been an Orwellian nightmare where old eggs are new and the truth is libelous.

    The cost of speaking out has been high. All of us at Ohio PIRG have had to commit enormous amounts of time, energy, and resources to defend ourselves in this lawsuit. We have had to endure attacks by Buckeye’s the law firm, Jones, Day, one of the largest law firms in the world. We are being buried in legal paperwork. We have had to find attorneys willing to take on our case free of charge because we lack the finances to fight off prolonged, costly, and harassing lawsuits. While I am confident that we will ultimately prevail in the courts, the process of defending oneself is hellish.

    In Ohio, we have already we have seen the chilling effect that the veggie-libel law has had on free speech. The same company who sued me has sent threatening letters to local residents, activists, and in one case, a public health official. People are now afraid to speak out because they fear getting sued. The suit against me and Ohio PIRG has effectively done that.

    For me, free speech is an essential part of my life as an American. I firmly believe that this suit is an attempt to muzzle the watchdogs -- to silence those who speak out to protect the public from unconscionable business practices.

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