Press Release

Society of Professional Journalists

Statement of
Fred Brown
Steve Geimann
immediate past president
April 29, 1998

Contact:      Mr. Fred Brown, SPJ President: (303) 820-1633
                    Mr. Steve Geimann (202) 872-9202, ex. 248
                    Ms. Kyle Niederpruem (317) 633-9385

Americans love to talk about food -- in supermarkets, restaurants, online chat rooms, special newsletters, in the press and even at the dinner table. They want to know as much about the food they eat. This public interest prompted TV news and newspapers to expand coverage of food issues and has led to creation of specialty publications that cover only food and the food industry.

The rise in state laws that gives special protection to food -- and the food business -- threatens legitimate discussion of food and food safety. Agricultural interests have succeeded in persuading some state lawmakers to provide insulation for their businesses against legitimate comment and public scrutiny.

These unconstitutional restrictions contradict this country's strong tradition of support for unfettered freedom of speech about matters of public importance. Under these laws, food critics, business writers who cover the food industry, agricultural and environmental newsletters and even farm reporters for newspapers could be subjected to lengthy -- and costly -- litigation just for doing their job in providing critical information to the public.

Our laws provide adequate protection for any business that may be damaged by public or private discussion. But food disparagement laws chill free expression and discourage public discussion about our food supply and pose a more serious threat to free speech.

The Society of Professional Journalists opposes such laws as a violation of the First Amendment protection for the public, activist groups and journalists to speak out on issues of vital public interest. SPJ joins other free speech advocates in urging elimination of the laws that have already taken effect and opposing enactment of similar legislation in other states.

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