For several years I have had concerns about the safety of my foods that come from grocery stores. As the food quality has decreased, and the greenwashing increased, my concern has also increased.
My willingness to bring up discussions about agribusiness (and laws tailored to their favor) within my circle of close friends has been pretty apparent for several years. For the last 2-3 years I have posted in many places news about food and farm legislation or related events that escape media headlines, but I’ve done it as a reporter might, without much stated opinion. After all, most of this country considers speaking out as rabble-rousing, or being of the lunatic fringe.
Lately it appears that to be concerned and voice that concern, possibly labels me as a terrorist with Homeland Security. Yes, that’s right…my understanding is HS sees telling the truth about some factory food production as fomenting discontent, which could lead to insurrection. BigAg (or somebody?) is trying to get it made a crime to show photos of factory farms on the Internet, according to Food, Inc.
This morning while reading about the PASS ID Act S.1261, I had to stop and look at my own image in the mirror. I didn’t much like the ethics I saw staring back. I have avoided speaking out in public, hesitating over what I could lose, including friends. Much of what is going on behind the scenes is classic totalitarian strategy, summed up by the German Pastor Martin Niemoller in this rhetoric we all have read and heard many times:
"...first (they came) for the Communists,
And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . .
and by that time there was no one left to speak up."
In 13 states (another 10 states have legislation in the works), there are food disparagement laws that make it a crime to criticize agricultural products without “sound, scientific basis”. The catch is in the “basis”, and agribusinesses have refuted scientific studies (other than biased research they supported and paid for) for in court and won.
Only those with deep pockets have won lawsuits about food disparagement. One case in point is the $10.3 million Texas lawsuit against Oprah Winfrey and vegetarian activist Howard Lyman several years ago. Lyman described some factory farm (feedlot) practices of feeding “rendered” cattle to cows on Oprah’s show, and she responded that the revelation would stop her from eating another burger. The suit was eventually dropped but not until attorney fees had cost Ms. Winfrey over a million dollars.
Commenting about the dangers of salmonella or e. coli on vegetables, irradiated foods, or the potential of adult-onset diabetes from overly-sweetened and nutrient-poor “fast foods” and sodas could drop a lawsuit on me in any one of the 13 states with food disparagement laws, and if I make such statements on the internet, ALL 13 states could sue me.
I personally believe those laws are a violation of the Right to Free Speech but no appeal has made it to the Supreme Court yet. That doesn’t mean I think it is okay to make false claims or untrue damaging statements about food and food companies, but I do think it is our Right to know the Truth about our food.
Food disparagement laws are the "descendants of criminal sedition laws, which made it a crime to criticize public officials," said American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director (1978 to 2001) Ira Glasser. "Today, such laws are used almost exclusively by the powerful to silence their critics."
If I do not stand up for what I believe, what I ultimately have to lose is my freedom along with my health… and the rights guaranteed in our Bill of Rights. Or I can sit quietly by, saying little, and watch my/our freedom and rights being eroded in such a way that most of us won’t even realize it until they are gone.