Food Policy

License to Blog

Diet advice censorship

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In the land of the First Amendment, should you be free to write about the benefits of your diet? That is what Steve Cooksey of North Carolina did on his "Diabetes Warrior" blog, where he discussed the "paleo" diet, which is limited to foods that humans ate before the development of agriculture. 

The North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition insists you need a license even to give informal diet advice within that state. In January 2012, the board sent Cooksey a marked-up version of his site, suggesting what he was and was not legally permitted to say. Four months later, Cooksey, with help from the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm, sued the board in federal court, arguing that its censorship violated his First Amendment rights. In October, U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn dismissed Cooksey's case for lack of standing. 

Cooksey edited his site as suggested by the regulators, so he was not punished. Hence he did not suffer any real injury, Cogburn concluded. Cooksey is appealing that decision as well as Cogburn's refusal to issue a preliminary injunction that would allow Cooksey to write freely while the case is pending. "If you self-censor to avoid the government arresting you, that is called having your speech chilled," says Institute for Justice attorney Paul Sherman. "That is a classic First Amendment injury."