April of 1996, Mr. Lyman (former cattle rancher and now President,
Voice for a Viable Future)) was
invited to appear on Oprah to discuss Mad Cow disease, food production,
and the rendering process. He was part of a discussion of experts,
including an expert from the beef industry, about food safety
in the U.S. This included a discussion of potential health risks
from e-colii and mad cow disease (which only weeks before was
making headlines in Britain and throughout the world). When Mr.
Lyman explained that cows are being fed to cows, Ms. Winfrey seemed
to be repulsed by this thought, and exclaimed that it had just
stopped her cold from eating another hamburger.[TRANSCRIPT]
show aired on a Monday, and beef futures -- which had been in
a steep decline due to drought, over-supply and a number of complex
factors -- fell further on Tuesday. (Pundits referred to this
as the "Oprah crash.") The cattle industry was apparently
outraged, and pulled hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of
TV advertising in retaliation. Pressured by television executives
to mollify the cattle industry, Oprah offered to do an hour-long
segment in which experts from the cattle business could debate
Mr. Lyman on her show. However, the cattlemen refused to appear
on the show if Lyman were going to be present. They did not desire
such a debate.
Oprah subsequently permitted a cattle business "expert"
to appear and speak for ten minutes on her show, presenting the
meat industry "side" in which the meat industry could
say whatever they wished, secure in the knowledge that no opposing
or questioning viewpoint would be heard.
short time later, some Texas cattlemen, led by billionaire Paul
Engler, owner of Cactus Feeders, Inc., filed suit against Lyman,
Oprah, Harpo Productions (which produces Oprah) and King World
Syndicator (King World was released from the suit by summary judgement).
The lawsuit alleged Lyman and Oprah had violated a Texas law
which forbids someone from "knowingly making false statements"
about agricultural business. The cattlemen have alleged that
Oprah is responsible for the decline in beef futures.
unprecedented trial took place in Amarillo, Texas -- right in
the middle of cattle ranching country, from where the jury has
been selected -- despite numerous requests from the defendants
to move the trial to another part of Texas.
his best-selling book, "Mad
Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won't Eat Meat,"
Howard goes into greater detail about the trial from an insider's
February 29th, 1998, the Texas jury found then Humane Society
of the US program director Howard Lyman and Oprah Winfrey not
liable for comments made on the national show about eating beef.
Lyman, now the President of "Voice
for a Viable Future," spent 6 weeks in Amarillo fighting
"food disparagement" and libel charges against him. Until the
jury rendered its judgement, Lyman and associates were barred
from speaking about the lawsuit as a result of a court-imposed
who spent much of his profesional life RAISING cattle, has been
traveling the globe year-round since 1991, speaking on health,
environment & animal issues, stated:
breathe more easily, knowing that a vigorous debate about potential
dangers to our food supply--ranging from E.coli to pfiesteria
to salmonella to Mad Cow disease -- is permissable. Lawsuits
like this stifle speech about matters that have implications
for the health and welfare of every American consumer. At a
time when threats to food safety are arguably greater than ever
-- threats exacerbated by intense confinement conditions that
abet the spread of disease, and by controversial feeding practices
-- we need a free and open discussion about these matters."
the battle isn't over. Thirteen states, including Texas, have
passed laws designed to silence
and intimidate those who expose unsafe and unhealthy factory farm
and slaughterhouse practices. These so-called "food disparagement"
laws make it a crime to criticize food and how it is produced.
Britain, 22 people died from Mad Cow disease. In the U.S., over
9,000 deaths occur yearly due to food-bourne illnesses such as
E.coli. Unsafe food is deadly. It is time to challenge these laws.
It is time to stand up to those who put their own economic interests
above the public's safety.
a few months after the Oprah show aired and caused a firestorm
of controversy, the Food and Drug Administration announced pending
regulations to eliminate the feeding of ruminants to ruminants.
The specific content of the regulations were delayed until after
the presidential elections of 1996, most likely to avoid offending
the livestock industry. Finally, the August 1997 ban on feeding
ruminants to ruminants, a necessary but insufficient measure
to stave off the spread of Mad Cow disease to America, went
into effect." (from
"Mad Cowboy," p.
TRIAL", by Howard Lyman (an Oct. 1999 article about the
trial published online by Satya Magazine)