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Enviro-Mich message from juliemec@voyager.net (Julie Stoneman)

Veggie Libel Bill Returns to House

Defenders of the first amendment, consumer
and health protection advocates--heads up!

An agriculture disparagement bill, HB 4660,  has been
reintroduced in the House by Rep. Allen Lowe
(R-Grayling) and was taken up on Thursday,
February 19 by the House Agriculture Committee
for discussion purposes only.   The bill would
allow agricultural producers to sue anyone
"intentionally disparaging" Michigan
agriculture products.

Intentional  disparagement is defined as anyone
disseminating "to the public in any manner information
about an agricultural product that directly indicate(d)
that the agricultural product (was) not safe for
human consumption; that, at the time of
dissemination, the person disseminating kn(e)w (was)
 inaccurate; and that (was) not based on reasonable
and reliable scientific inquiry, facts, or data."

Although Lowe stated in his presentation to the
committee that his bill stresses intentional
disparagement, it clearly would cause problems
for anyone wishing to raise concerns about
food safety.   Rep. Ed LaForge (D-Kalamazoo), in
expressing opposition to the  bill,  asked good
questions about whose science would be considered
"reasonable and reliable."

Several states have passed these anti-
disparagement laws, including Texas, site of
the infamous and ongoing Oprah Winfrey
trial.  Winfrey  was sued by cattle ranchers
for remarks made on her show about beef.
(Although this author is not up on the latest,
the judge in that case evidently ruled the law didin't
hold water and any suit would have to be
pursued under libel laws.)

The attempt to somehow prevent consumers from
speaking out about food safety predates the
Oprah case in Michigan and can be tied back
to the ban on the use of the chemical Alar several years
ago.  Michigan growers claimed millions in losses
as the public debated about the controversial
pesiticide.   An anti-disparagement  bill was introduced
last session but subsequently died.

Rep.  Lowe indicated he was not ready
to move the bill as several interest groups have
expressed concern, including media and organic
 growers,  and he wants to work with them.   But the
fact that HB 4660 is out there and in committee
is cause for real concern.  Legislators need to hear
that the public won't tolerate limits to our ability
to publically question the safety of any consumer

A copy of HB 4660  can be retrieved from the Legislature
web site:    www.MichLegislature.org

Contact Rep. Lowe at:   alowe1@house.state.mi.us
Ph:   517-373-0829   (He also has a web site:

Julie Stoneman
Director of Land Programs
Michigan Environmental Council
119 Pere Marquette Dr., Suite 2A
Lansing, MI  48912
ph:     517-487-9539
fax:    517-487-9541
email:  juliemec@voyager.net

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