The Center for Science in the Public Interest is a national consumer group that frequently issues controversial reports about nutrition and food safety. CSPI, located in Washington, D.C., is supported largely by its one million members. Ronald Collins, director of CSPI's project on food-libel laws, had the following comment about the Texas jury's verdict in the lawsuit against Oprah Winfrey and Howard Lyman.
We applaud today's jury verdict. Oprah's victory, however, is not a real First Amendment victory. As long as state food-disparagement laws remain on the books, anyone can file a harassing lawsuit and silence the speech of consumers, food and health advocates and the media.
This case demonstrates the extraordinary financial and legal resources needed to defend against a lawsuit, even if one ultimately wins. Few organizations, and fewer individuals, can afford to speak out if the cost of such speech is as high as in the Oprah case. A few of those law suits, whatever their final outcomes, could bankrupt almost any group.
CSPI is mounting a campaign to repeal the repressive food-disparagement laws that 13 states have adopted and to encourage other states not to adopt such laws. Civil liberty, health and environmental groups, and media organizations must band together to oppose those laws' threat to First Amendment freedoms that should certainly safeguard public discussion about health risks concerning food.
CSPI is a nonprofit health-advocacy organization that focuses on nutrition and food safety. It is based in Washington, D.C., and is supported largely by the one million members and subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter.