Members, Assembly Judiciary Committee
1020 N Street, Room 104
Sacramento, California 95814

Re: AB 698 – Oppose

Dear Members of the Judiciary Committee:            

The National Coalition Against Censorship writes to express concerns about AB 698, which would create a new cause of action for making disparaging comments about perishable agricultural products, because of its potential to chill protected speech.

NCAC opposes these so-called "veggie-libel" laws because they threaten public discussion and debate on matters of public concern.   By subjecting anyone who voices concern over the health risks associated with the agricultural industry's practices and products to potential litigation, these laws create an environment that will stifle vitally important speech on public health.   If critics of agricultural practices face the potential risk of financial ruin for speaking out, few will do so, even if they would ultimately prevail in court.

The First Amendment protects the rights of the public to opine freely on issues such as the health and safety of the food we eat.   State laws that permit lawsuits against those who question the safety of foods, such as the proposed AB 698, create a chilling effect on public health discourse and intimidate citizens and the press who want to speak out about food safety.    As Judge Mary Lou Robinson noted in the Texas Beef Group v. Oprah Winfrey case, "It would be difficult to conceive of any topic of discussion that could be of greater concern and interest to all Americans than the safety of the food that they eat."   We concur.   Considering the recent news reports of agricultural product tainted by E. coli , we cannot think of a more important topic for public discourse than the need to discuss fully and openly, without fear of economic reprisal, issues about the safety and healthfulness of the foods we eat.

Please feel free to contact me if we can be of assistance in your deliberations.

Very truly yours,
Jay Dyckman, Esq.
Director, The Knowledge Project
National Coalition Against Censorship

Cc: Honorable Audra Strickland
Consultant, Assembly Judiciary Committee