Two more popular television shows have recently disparaged agriculture, according to some who write from rural America.
Broadcasting false and disparaging information about agriculture could still land television personalities in court in 13 mostly rural states. Just ask the departing afternoon television queen Oprah Winfrey who in 1995 used her program to put the “scare” into the Mad Cow story.
She prevailed in a lawsuit that forced her into an Amarillo, Texas courtroom in the best-known test of an agricultural disparagement statute. These laws are sometimes referred to as “perishable product statutes,” and that’s where the “veggie libel law” moniker came from.
Ag disparagement laws exist because individual states want to “protect their economies by guarding their agriculture industries,’ according to lawyer Daniel E. Cochran.
“Disparagement statutes are unique from their oft-cited counterpart, defamation claims, but are part of the same genre of tortuous acts as “injurious falsehood,” Cochran adds. “Disparagement is an injury to an economic or property interest based on false statement of fact.”
While desires to “protect farmers from food safety scares” were among the motivations of state legislators who wrote the disparagement laws, the statutes themselves contain strict requirements for the sort of proof that would be required to support a successful claim.
“Supporters of agricultural disparagement statutes argue that these statutes are not designed to insulate agriculture from criticism, but to require persons or groups who criticize agriculture to do it truthfully, without lies and innuendo,” says Cochran.
The two recent television shows that some in fly-over country are claiming disparaged agriculture were episodes of the Ellen Degeneris talk show and the drama Bones.
A scribe at the Nebraska Farm Bureau provided these reviews:
“Jonathan Safran Foer, author of ‘Eating Animals,’ said in his interview with Degeneris that 99 percent of U.S. food animals are raised in indoor factory farms, fed unnatural diets, and given antibiotics from birth to death; that food animal production is the number one cause of air and water pollution and is the top contributor to global warming, nearly doubling the warming contribution of transportation, and that H1N1 flu originated in North Carolina swine herds, among other falsehoods. If you want to do one thing to help animals, Foer says, give up eggs.”
“In ‘Tough Man in the Tender Chicken; episode of Bones, the body of a manager of a chicken ‘factory farm’ (actually a processing plant) is found with traumatic injuries and mutilations. (Spoiler alert: the security guard did it, because, he said, his wife’s health was compromised while working at the plant.) The animal rights group Farm Sanctuary, said it secured undercover video of the chicken facility used in the program at the request of series star, Emily Deshanel, who is a vegan on air and in real life. The chicken facilities and animal care practices are criticized and misrepresented by the program’s characters.
“In a parallel story, a continuing charter tries to convince her friends to help raised $1,500 to save one pig from becoming bacon by sponsoring a farm sanctuary.”
The Nebraska Farm Bureau is not filing an Ag disparagement lawsuit, but are encouraging people to protest to Warner Brothers and Fox, the studios that produce the shows.
That was the same strategy employed during the fall when CSI Miami aired an episode that piled genetically modified corn, botulism, and E. coli into a drama on the ills of corporate farming.
But the more Hollywood does its thing, you can bet that rural lawmakers from Pierre to Tallahassee will be checking the disparagement language they have on the books.