What Are Agricultural Disparagement Statutes?


General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
David J. Bederman, JD, PhD, Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law, wrote the following in article titled "Food Libel: Litigating Scientific Uncertainty in a Constitutional Twilight Zone," published in the DePaul Business Law Journal, Spring/Summer, 1998:

"The stated legislative purpose of the [agricultural] disparagement statutes is virtually identical in all thirteen states. The language used reflects a general concern on the part of each legislature to protect the agricultural and aquacultural economy of its state. In order to protect the perishable food economy, the legislatures created a cause of action for damages from disparaging statements or dissemination of false information about the safety of the consumption of food products. In eight of the thirteen statutes, the purpose is repeated nearly verbatim: 'to protect the agricultural and aquacultural economy... by providing a cause of action for producers to recover damages for the disparagement of any perishable product or commodity.' Two of the remaining five limit the purpose to the protection of agricultural products only. The Texas and North Dakota statutes do not expressly state their purpose.

The party given a cause of action is the same in all but three of the states. 'Producers,' generally defined as 'the person who actually grows or produces perishable agricultural food products,' are the only parties allowed to file an action for disparagement of agricultural food products. In the other states, however, the laws are much more liberal. On its face, the Alabama legislation limits eligible parties to producers, but then defines 'producers' as 'any person who produces, markets or sells a perishable food product.' Likewise, Georgia grants a cause of action to any party in the 'entire chain from grower to consumer.' Arizona expands the list of parties to include any 'producer, shipper, or an association that represents producers or shippers,' which is broadly defined to encompass any person who ships, transports, sells or markets a perishable food product. The Ohio and North Dakota statutes feature provisions that allow class actions by groups of aggrieved producers."

1998 - David J. Bederman, JD, PhD 

Daniel E. Cochran, JD, Associate at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP, wrote the following in a 2001 essay titled, "State Agricultural Disparagement Statutes: Suing Chicken Little," during his third year of law school at Harvard University:

"Within this cultural context and the $500 billion food industry in the United States, individual states have sought to protect their economies by guarding their agricultural industries. In the wake of the landmark case, Auvil v. CBS '60 Minutes', where common law disparagement failed to protect the plaintiffs, at least 13 states have enacted agricultural/perishable product disparagement statutes as a warning to disseminators of public information. These statutes were enacted to ensure that claims critical of a state's agricultural industry are not merely false creations by the media, designed to produce a public scare and increase ratings.

Disparagement statutes are unique from their oft-cited counterpart, defamation claims, but are part of the same genre of tortious acts as 'injurious falsehood'. Disparagement is an injury to an economic or property interest based on a false statement of fact. A disparagement defendant would be someone who seeks to prevent others from dealing with the plaintiff by making false and negative statements about the title to her property, the quality of her property, or the quality of her business. Legislative history indicates one state's desire to 'protect farmers from food safety scares'.

Also called perishable product statutes, and more cynically known as 'veggie libel' laws, agricultural disparagement statutes have faced criticism relating to the degree they infringe on First Amendment rights. Some critics argue that the Supreme Court's analysis of defamation claims should be applied to agricultural disparagement statutes. Using the defamation analysis, many of the agricultural disparagement statutes are criticized as unconstitutional for lacking a sufficient fault standard, not requiring plaintiffs to prove falsity, and not requiring proof that the statements were 'of and concerning' the plaintiff's product.

However, contrary to these negative assertions, states have adopted strict requirements of proof for a disparagement action to proceed under their statutes. Supporters of agricultural disparagement statutes argue that these statutes are not designed to insulate agriculture from criticism, but to require persons and groups who criticize agriculture to do it truthfully, without lies and innuendo...

To date, at least 13 states have enacted these statutes including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas. While Colorado's statute enforces a criminal penalty, the statutes of the other 12 states are similar in their definition of a statutory cause of action for civil liability. Six of the states include four major provisions of 1) a statement of legislative intent, 2) a definitions section, 3) a statement of a cause of action for disparagement, and 4) a statute of limitations. The remaining states omit either the statute of limitations or the statement of legislative intent. While the states' statutes have these structural similarities, the statutes differ considerably with regard to who is allowed a cause of action, the standard of conduct that triggers liability, the requirement of falsity, and the type of recovery available."

2001 - Daniel E. Cochran, JD 

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), has posted on its website project "FoodSpeak," 13 state agricultural disparagement statutes (accessed on Sep. 12, 2007):

CODE OF ALABAMA
TITLE 6. CIVIL PRACTICE
CHAPTER 5. ACTIONS
ARTICLE 32. ACTION FOR DISPARAGEMENT OF FOOD PRODUCT OR COMMODITY

The Legislature hereby finds, determines, and declares that the production of agricultural and aquacultural food products and commodities constitute an important and significant portion of the state economy and that it is imperative to protect the vitality of the agricultural and aquacultural economy for the citizens of this state by providing a cause of action for producers to recover damages for the disparagement of any perishable product or commodity...
[Read entire Alabama statute here]



 

ARIZONA

ARIZONA REVISED STATUTES
TITLE 3. AGRICULTURE AND DAIRYING
CHAPTER 1. AGRICULTURAL ADMINISTRATION
ARTICLE 2. AGRICULTURAL PROTECTION ACT
@ 3-113. Action for false claims against perishable agricultural food product; limitation; definitions

A. A producer, shipper, or an association that represents producers or shippers, of perishable agricultural food products that suffers damages as a result of malicious public dissemination of false information that the food product is not safe for human consumption may bring an action for damages and for any other appropriate relief, including compensatory and punitive damages, in a court of competent jurisdiction...
[Read entire Arizona statute here]

 


 

COLORADO

[In 1994, the Colorado legislature amended an earlier statute, Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 35-31-101, in such a way as to criminalize 'knowingly to make any materially false statement' regarding an agricultural product.]

COLO. REV. STAT. ANN. (Criminal) Sect. 35-31-101

sect. 35-31-101. Destruction of food prohibited

It is unlawful for any person, firm, partnership, association, or corporation or any servant, agent, employee, or officer thereof to destroy or cause to be destroyed, or to permit to decay or to become unfit for use or consumption, or to take, send, or cause to be transported out of this state so to be destroyed or permitted to decay, or knowingly to make any materially false statement, for the purpose of maintaining prices or establishing higher prices for the same, or for the purpose of limiting or diminishing the quantity thereof available for market, or for the purpose of procuring, or aiding in procuring, or establishing, or maintaining a monopoly in such articles or products, or for the purpose of in any manner restraining trade, any fruits, vegetables, grain, meats, or other articles or products ordinarily grown, raised, produced, or used in any manner or to any extent as food for human beings or for domestic animals.
[Read entire Colorado statute here]

 


 

FLORIDA

FLORIDA STATUTES
TITLE XLVI CRIMES
CHAPTER 865 VIOLATIONS OF CERTAIN COMMERCIAL RESTRICTIONS

5.065 Disparagement of perishable agricultural food products; cause of action; limitation.

(1) The Legislature finds, determines, and declares that the production of agricultural food products constitutes an important and significant portion of the state economy and that it is imperative to protect the vitality of the agricultural economy for the citizens of this state by providing a cause of action for agricultural producers to recover damages for the disparagement of any perishable agricultural product...
[Read entire Florida statute here]

 


 

GEORGIA

OFFICIAL CODE OF GEORGIA
TITLE 2. AGRICULTURE
CHAPTER 16. ACTION FOR DISPARAGEMENT OF PERISHABLE FOOD PRODUCTS OR COMMODITIES

§ 2-16-1. Legislative findings, determinations, and declaration

The General Assembly finds, determines, and declares that the production of agricultural and aquacultural food products and commodities constitutes an important and significant portion of the state economy and that it is imperative to protect the vitality of the agricultural and aquacultural economy for the citizens of this state by providing a cause of action for producers, marketers, or sellers to recover damages for the disparagement of any perishable product or commodity...
[Read entire Georgia statute here]

 


 

IDAHO

IDAHO CODE
CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE
TITLE 6. ACTIONS IN PARTICULAR CASES
CHAPTER 20. DISPARAGEMENT OF AGRICULTURAL FOOD PRODUCTS

§ 6-2001. Legislative intent

The legislature hereby finds, determines and declares that the production of agricultural food products constitutes a large proportion of the Idaho economy and that it is beneficial to the citizens of this state to protect the vitality of the agricultural economy by providing a legal cause of action for producers of perishable agricultural food products to recover damages for the disparagement of any perishable agricultural food product...
[Read entire Idaho statute here]



 

LOUISIANA

LOUISIANA REVISED STATUTES
TITLE 3. AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY
CHAPTER 29. DISPARAGEMENT OF AGRICULTURAL OR AQUACULTURAL PRODUCTS

01. Legislative findings

The legislature hereby finds, determines, and declares that the production of agricultural and aquacultural food products constitutes an important and significant portion of the state economy and that it is beneficial to the citizens of this state to protect the vitality of the agricultural and aquacultural economy by providing a cause of action for producers of perishable agricultural food products to recover damages for the disparagement of any perishable agricultural or aquacultural food product...
[Read entire Louisiana statute here]



 

MISSISSIPPI

MISSISSIPPI CODE
TITLE 69 AGRICULTURE, HORTICULTURE, AND ANIMALS
CHAPTER 1 Agriculture and Commerce Department;
Council on Agriculture

Disparagement of Perishable Agricultural or Aquacultural Food Product

§ 69-1-251. Legislative findings.

The Legislature finds that the production of agricultural and aquacultural food products constitutes an important and significant portion of the state economy and that it is beneficial to the citizens of this state to protect the vitality of the agricultural and aquacultural economy by providing a cause of action for producers of perishable agricultural food products to recover damages for the disparagement of any perishable agricultural or aquacultural food product...
[Read entire Mississippi statute here]



 

NORTH DAKOTA

N.D. Century Code, sect. 32-44-02 (1997)
sect. 32-44-02. Civil liability for defamation of agricultural producers

A person who willfully or purposefully disseminates a false and defamatory statement, knowing the statement to be false, regarding an agricultural producer or an agricultural product under circumstances in which the statement may be reasonably expected to be believed and the agricultural producer is damaged as a result, is liable to the agricultural producer for damages and other relief allowed by law in a court of competent jurisdiction, including injunctive relief and compensatory and exemplary damages. If it is found by a court or jury that a person has maliciously disseminated a false and defamatory statement regarding an agricultural product or agricultural producer, the agricultural producer may recover up to three times the actual damages proven and the court must order that the agricultural producer recover costs, disbursements, and actual reasonable attorneys' fees incurred in the action...
[Read entire North Dakota statute here]



 

OHIO

PAGE'S OHIO REVISED CODE ANNOTATED;
TITLE XXIII [23] COURTS -- COMMON PLEAS
CHAPTER 2307: CIVIL ACTIONS
[PRODUCT LIABILITY]

ORC Ann. 2307.81 (Anderson 1997)

§ 2307.81 Disparagement of perishable agricultural or aquacultural food product.

(A) The general assembly finds that the production of agricultural and aquacultural food products constitutes an important and significant portion of the economy of this state. Further, the general assembly finds that the dissemination in this state of false information about the safety of Ohio's food supply would be extremely detrimental to Ohio's economy, the welfare of the consuming public, and the producers of agricultural and aquacultural food products. Accordingly, it is the intent of the general assembly in enacting section 2307.81 of the Revised Code to benefit all the citizens of this state and protect the vitality of the agricultural and aquacultural economy by providing a cause of action for producers of perishable agricultural and aquacultural food products to recover damages for the disparagement of such food products...
[Read entire Ohio statute here]

 


 

OKLAHOMA

OKLAHOMA STATUTES
TITLE 2. AGRICULTURE
CHAPTER 41A. DISPARAGEMENT OF AGRICULTURAL FOOD PRODUCTS

§ 3010. Legislative finding and declaration

The Legislature hereby finds, determines and declares that the production of agricultural food products constitutes a large proportion of the state's economy and that it is beneficial to the citizens of this state to protect the vitality of the agricultural economy by providing a legal cause of action for producers of perishable agricultural food products to recover damages for the disparagement of any perishable agricultural food product...
[Read entire Oklahoma statute here]

 


 

SOUTH DAKOTA

SOUTH DAKOTA CODIFIED LAWS
TITLE 20. PERSONAL RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS
CHAPTER 20-10A. LIABILITY FOR DISPARAGEMENT OF AGRICULTURAL FOOD PRODUCTS

§ 20-10A-1. Definition of terms

Terms used in this chapter mean:

(1) "Agricultural food product," any food product of agriculture or aquaculture that is sold or distributed in a form that will perish or decay beyond marketability within a period of time; and

(2) "Disparagement," dissemination in any manner to the public of any information that the disseminator knows to be false and that states or implies that an agricultural food product is not safe for consumption by the public or that generally accepted agricultural and management practices make agricultural food products unsafe for consumption by the public;

(3) "Generally accepted agricultural and management practices," agronomic and animal husbandry procedures used in the production of agricultural goods including tillage options, fertilizers, crop protection practices for crop production, and the feeding, transporting, housing, and health practices for livestock...
[Read entire South Dakota statute here]



 

TEXAS

TEXAS CIVIL PRACTICE AND REMEDIES CODE
TITLE 4. LIABILITY IN TORT
CHAPTER 96. FALSE DISPARAGEMENT OF PERISHABLE FOOD PRODUCTS

§ 96.001. Definition

In this chapter, "perishable food product" means a food product of agriculture or aquaculture that is sold or distributed in a form that will perish or decay beyond marketability within a limited period of time.

§ 96.002. Liability

(a) A person is liable as provided by Subsection (b) if:
(1) the person disseminates in any manner information relating to a perishable food product to the public;
(2) the person knows the information is false; and
(3) the information states or implies that the perishable food product is not safe for consumption by the public.
(b) A person who is liable under Subsection (a) is liable to the producer of the perishable food product for damages and any other appropriate relief arising from the person's dissemination of the information...
[Read entire Texas statute here]

Sep. 12, 2007 - Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)