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EarthSave Backs Oprah, Lyman,
and Free Speech
Press release: February 1998

This week EarthSave International, a non-profit educational organization, spoke out in support of EarthSave board member Howard Lyman and talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who are on trial in federal court in Texas. The pair are being sued by Texas ranchers under a controversial state food disparagement law for comments they made expressing their concern about the safety of beef and the threat of mad cow disease.

EarthSave is concerned that such food disparagement statutes, which are now law in 13 states, might limit free speech and that trial publicity might overshadow legitimate concerns about the threat of mad cow disease in this country. EarthSave is calling on concerned citizens and consumer groups to oppose proposed "food disparagement" laws and to urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prohibit the now common practice of feeding animal parts to farm animals as feed. (the FDA has thus far only banned the feeding of ruminants-such as cows and sheep-back to other ruminants.)

Free speech on trial

In typical libel cases, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff. But with food disparagement laws the burden is on the defense. Lyman must prove that the concerns he voiced about beef are based on "reliable scientific inquiry, facts, or data." It won’t be enough for ex-cattle rancher Lyman to produce scientists who validate his statements. He must convince a Texas jury that his statements did not deviate from "reasonable and reliable scientific inquiry, facts, and data."

"Where would we be today if those commenting on tobacco products twenty years ago had to measure up to this standard?" questioned EarthSave International President Stacey Vicari. "Food disparagement laws will make consumers and educational groups afraid to engage in healthy debate about important topics. Healthy debate is what our country was founded upon," added Vicari.

"Mad Cow" risks

Another major concern for EarthSave is the threat of mad cow disease in our country. During the Oprah show in question, ex-cattle rancher Lyman exposed the widespread practice of feeding animals to other animals. This revelation shocked Winfrey and millions of Americans. Finally last summer the U.S. government prohibited livestock producers from feeding cow remains back to cows, eight years after a similar ban was instituted in great Britain where scientists now believe that mad cow disease is responsible for some 20 deaths in humans. Many feel that this may leave the door open to risk unless we ban the feeding of all animal parts to other animals being raised for human consumption.