Legal Insight. Business Instinct.

Disparaging Agriculture Food Products

Thirteen states, including the State of Idaho, have adopted agricultural food product disparagement laws. Idaho’s disparagement law is designed to protect producers of perishable agricultural food products. A person who defames an Idaho producer of products such as potatoes, onions, beef, or milk can severely damage the producer by claiming that the product is unsafe or unhealthy.

For example, Beef Products, Inc. has filed suit in South Dakota against ABC News and several individual news anchors who reported that lean finely textured beef was not beef at all, but rather “unhealthy ‘pink slime’ that was hidden in ground beef.” As a result of the story, Beef Products, Inc. alleges that sales of lean finely textured beef decreased resulting in the closure of three production facilities and the lay-off of over 700 employees.

The same kind of harm can result to an Idaho farmer or rancher who is wrongfully accused of producing harmful products.

Idaho’s act requires a producer to prove by “clear and convincing” evidence that it has suffered actual damages as a result of another person’s disparagement of the producer’s product.

A producer must show that disparaging factual statements are clearly directed at a particular plaintiff’s product. A factual statement that is aimed at a generic group of products, rather than a specific producer’s product, may not be the basis for a claim. A statement that “potatoes are unhealthy” is not the basis for a lawsuit. However, a slanderous statement that Farmer John’s potatoes are unhealthy is actionable where Farmer John can prove that it lost sales of potatoes as a result of the disparagement.

Be advised that Idaho law protects farmers and ranchers from disparaging statements that harm producers of agricultural food products.

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