Oprah Lawsuit
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"Oprah and I have the distinction of being the first individuals sued under the Texas Food Disparagement Act." (from "Mad Cowboy," p. 15)

It's OVER. The verdict on the most recent appeal by "Cactus Feeders" against Oprah Winfrey and Howard Lyman, to a Federal Court has come in. The lawsuit against Oprah and Howard was "dismissed with prejudice." After almost 6 years and who knows how many millions of dollars in lawyer's fees, the case is over. Oprah and Howard won, and not only that, "Cactus Feeders", et. al., are not permitted to appeal this verdict to a higher court (i.e., the Supreme Court) or pursue the matter any more.

Done deal.

The first lawsuit to test "Food Slander" laws has ended.

With apologies to Orpah (who said "Free Speech Rocks" upon the original verdict back in 1998), "FREE SPEECH STILL ROCKS."

FINAL PAPERWORK: [01] [02] [03]


  • Original trial was in February 1998: Amarillo, Texas. During the first trial Oprah and Howard filed for the judge to dismiss the case, she then dismissed the food disparagement portion. The libel portion was allowed to continue. The April 1998 vedict was for Oprah and Howard.
  • The April 1998 verdict in Oprah/Howard's favor was appealed in the 5th Circuit Court by Cactus Feeders, et. al. A unanimous decision upheld the verdict.
  • A "re-hearing" was denied. The suit was then filed in State Court by Cactus Feeders, et. al.
  • The suit filed in State Court was identical to the previously decided in Federal Court.
  • Howard moved the case from State Court to Federal Court (as he is not a resident of Texas and this is his right under law).
  • That request to move the case to Federal Court was appealed by Cactus Feeders, et. al., and the Federal Judge denied the request.
  • On August 27, 2002, the Federal Judge dismissed the case with prejudice, effectively indicating that the case belongs in Federal Court, the Judge had it, and it stays there. Case over, statute of limitations have expired. The case cannot be filed again, anywhere... including the Supreme Court.


In 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]

The 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.

So, 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.

A 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.

The 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.

In 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 perspective.


On 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.

Mr. 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 gag order.

Lyman, 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:

"Today...I 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."

But 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.

In 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.

"Within 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. 16)

"SHOW TRIAL", by Howard Lyman (an Oct. 1999 article about the trial published online by Satya Magazine)





      • CNN Chicago Bureau Trial Resources (superb compendium of documents, interviews, sound files, links, resources...a one-stop shop!)



TEXAS LEGISLATURE ONLINE - "The Perishable Food Disparagement Act"