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Company Tries to Silence Public Citizen’s Criticism of Food Irradiation

Aug. 10, 2000

Company Tries to Silence Public Citizen’s Criticism of Food Irradiation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A Florida company warned Public Citizen this week that it might take legal action against the consumer advocacy organization for alleged “false statements” regarding a lack of consumer demand for irradiated food. Public Citizen, which is leading a nationwide campaign to stop food irradiation, responded in a letter that the company’s accusations are completely without merit.

Lawyers for Food Technology Service Inc. told Public Citizen in a letter that they will “utilize all available legal remedies to protect its business interests.”

Public Citizen, founded by Ralph Nader in 1971, has engaged more than 200 organizations representing one million people to raise awareness about the hazards of “treating” food with radiation.

“The First Amendment guarantees our right to free speech,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “We will not allow Food Technology Service — or any other special interest — to intimidate us. We will continue to educate American consumers about the dangers of irradiation.

“People care deeply about this issue. When they go grocery shopping, they want to buy wholesome food. They don’t want to gamble with the health and welfare of their families.”

The threat is a textbook example of an emerging legal strategy by corporate interests to stunt public scrutiny. Corporations are relying increasingly on SLAPP suits (“strategic lawsuits against public participation”), which, even though rarely successful, have the dual effect of chilling citizen-based advocacy and pushing grassroots organizations into bankruptcy.

“This time, they have gone too far,” Hauter said. “Corporate America is out for Corporate America, and everyone else be damned. In the single-minded pursuit of profit, some corporations appear to be more than willing not only to endanger the health of American consumers but to deploy high-powered lawyers to intimidate those who dare speak out.”

Lawyers for Food Technology Service accused Public Citizen of “publishing false statements” in a July 31 news release regarding the sale of irradiated meat in the communities of Lakeland and Stuart, Florida. Store managers told members of Public Citizen’s anti-irradiation campaign that the meat products were no longer being sold, due to insufficient consumer demand.