Ask many people outside of our state what they think of when they hear “South Dakota” and the answer could very well be “sweet corn.” South Dakota’s corn is famous for its quality. But what if someone gets a bad piece of sweet corn? Could that person say that South Dakota sweet corn was “awful” or “not edible”? The answer is “yes,” but that person may face a lawsuit for that comment.
In 1994, South Dakota enacted the “Disparagement of Agricultural Food Products Act,” which created legal liability for knowingly false statements made about perishable food products (like sweet corn). In essence, the Act allows South Dakota food producers to sue anyone making an allegedly defamatory statement about a particular food product. Therefore, if someone said that a piece of sweet corn was “awful,” a South Dakota corn farmer may have a claim for agricultural disparagement or “veggie libel” against that person.
South Dakota is not the only state that recognizes these types of laws. Approximately a dozen other states currently have food-defamation laws. Most of these laws were passed after a 1989 controversy surrounding a “60 Minutes” report about the negative effects on children of Alar – a chemical frequently used on apples.
So, if someone ever gets a bad piece of sweet corn, they should think twice about saying that South Dakota has “awful” or “unhealthy” sweet corn. As it stands today, your sweet corn has the same legal rights in protecting its “reputation” as you do.