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Don't call your food names: Oprah on trial for disparaging beef

FOI Alert Volume 3, Issue 3 (1997-98)

Nothing should get the blood boiling as easily as the ridiculous notion a person could disaparage an artichoke.

Or an apple. Even a burger.

As popular talk-show host Oprah Winfrey discovered, making what would seem like an innocent comment in context over a discussion about "Mad Cow" disease earned her a $12 million lawsuit and plenty of publicity.

On April 16, 1996, Oprah featured a show about dangerous food, after the British government announced 10 of its citizens died by eating beef from cows sick with the disease.

What got Oprah in trouble was this statement: "It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger."

The price of cattle futures dropped almost immediately after the broadcast, taking a hit for almost two months.

The beef industry has responded with claims that Oprah's opinion had devastating effects on individual ranchers who've lost a mess of burger business.

They invoked the Texas food disparagement law and sued.

The Society of Professional Journalists has long-held that food product disparagement laws are a means of quieting public debate on food safety issues.

At last count, 14 states have passed such laws.

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