Essay by Ed Quillen
Livestock – March 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine
CATTLEMEN ARE SUPPOSED to be brave enough to go grizzly hunting with a willow switch, mean enough to tackle a buzz saw bare-handed, and tougher than boot leather. And that goes double if they’re from Texas. But it turns out that Lone Star cowboys are a bunch of wimps who can be reduced to quivering terror by an afternoon television talk show.
Texas ranchers have brought a libel suit against Oprah Winfrey. Like a dozen other states, Texas recently passed a law which allows producers and growers to sue for damages if someone disparages their products.
In April of 1996, Winfrey had a guest who talked about how British cattle were made into cannibals by feeding them ground-up cattle parts. This may have allowed “mad cow disease” to spread there, and Winfrey said this revelation was enough to keep her from ever touching another hamburger.
The cattlemen charge that her remark, heard by about 8 million Americans, caused beef demand to plummet, which led to a steep decline in prices. They lost millions, which Winfrey should repay.
This appears to be the first suit brought under such laws. Many, like Colorado’s, were passed in the wake of the Alar scare (promulgated by that well-known produce-safety expert, Meryl Streep) that had apple producers unable to sell their harvests a few years ago.
The principle behind “produce disparagement” laws is noble. On one side we have our dwindling yeomanry, sturdy people who rise before dawn and then face drought, blizzards, hail, 4-H projects, and foreclosure. On the other side, some televised motormouths and Hollywood habitues who probably don’t know what they’re talking about. Why should the virtuous producers suffer economic trauma from the misguided slings and arrows of the chattering class?
Well, they shouldn’t. But we must consider what would follow if the cattlemen prevail against Oprah. Soon we would be reading stories like these:
“The National Pork Producers Council yesterday filed the largest lawsuit in American history, seeking $200 billion in damages.
“Named as defendants were the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Federation of Islamic Associations in the United States, as well as 121 publishing companies known to have issued certain sections of the Old Testament.
“The suit charged that pork prices had been depressed for centuries because the product had been characterized as `unclean’ by these groups and by certain portions of the Bible.”
“Hormel Meat Products Co. has announced that it will seek a permanent injunction against further broadcasting by the NBC television network. The action came in the wake of a Jay Leno segment on the network’s Tonight Show, wherein Leno invited audience members to participate in a Spam-stomping contest.
“This, Hormel attorneys said, strongly implies that the processed meat product is unfit to eat, and though sales have soared as Spam-stomping became an instant national fad, the product’s reputation suffered.”
“Former President George H.W. Bush faces arrest if he visits California, according to the state attorney general.
“Bush, who made no secret of his dislike for a certain vegetable while in the White House, was charged with second-degree disparagement of produce after the Golden State Broccoli Growers Coöperative filed a complaint.
“If caught and convicted, Bush could receive a $100 fine and face six months of required therapy in an approved twelve-step botanic-esteem recovery program. State officials said they would not seek extradition, but warned Bush to keep his vegetative preferences to himself in the future.”
“The National Food Wholesalers Association has threatened dictionary publishers with massive lawsuits unless certain definitions are revised or omitted in future editions.
“An association spokesman said that the lexicographers are facilitating the disparagement of food sources when they publish certain definitions, such as `lemon’ for a bad car, `turkey’ for an undesirable person, or `bull—-‘ or `hogwash’ for an untrue statement.”
That’s a start on how weird matters could get if the Texas cattlemen win their suit against Oprah. If you think it’s tough being politically correct now in your speech, just wait till plants can sue because you might have dissed them.
The cattlemen should have just issued a statement that people who don’t eat beef are sissies. Instead, these big, tough Marlboro Men are acting like wimps as they slink to a courtroom to share their pain. Is victimhood really that fashionable these days?
Ed Quillen gladly eats hamburgers, T-bones, and sirloins in his effort to avoid the bacterial infections possible from uncooked vegetables. When he’s not eating, he helps publish Colorado Central and writes columns for The Denver Post and Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News.