Outside magazine, July 1996
"Someone suddenly says dried apricots give you cancer, you stop eating dried apricots, and the farmer loses his shirt," huffs John Keeling of the American Farm Bureau Federation. "We're tired of people playing loose with the facts." Agribusiness's solution? Arrest the messenger. In a trend that has both journalists and scientists feeling jittery, 12 states have recently passed "food disparagement" laws that prevent citizens from insulting fruits and veggies without "sound scientific...data." Four more state legislatures are currently debating similar bills. Prompted by public hysteria over possible health risks, the laws stipulate penalties ranging from reimbursement for lost sales to jury-determined punitive damages. "This is immensely threatening, free-speech-wise," says David Bederman, a law professor who tried and failed to get a Georgia court to declare that state's law unconstitutional. "These laws are meant to intimidate people from examining our food."