Dr. Oz Rebuffs First Amendment Challenge by Olive Oil Industry

Do you love the First Amendment but detest Dr. Oz? Read on.


Harpo Productions/Oz Works

Last week, a Georgia state judge dismissed a lawsuit filed against talk-show host Dr. Oz over claims made on his show last year that much of the olive oil sold in U.S. grocery stores is fraudulent. The suit alleged that Oz wrongly disparaged the corrupt olive oil industry.

The lawsuit was brought against Oz by an industry trade group, the New Jersey-based North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA), under Georgia's so-called veggie libel law. It's one of about a dozen states with these awful laws—which allow a party to sue for damages if a person allegedly disparages their agricultural products—on the books.

Oz won in court thanks to Georgia's anti-SLAPP law. Such laws gives people who speak out on issues of public concern a useful tool to counter lawsuits that seek to intimidate them into silence. ("SLAPP" is an acronym that stands for "strategic lawsuit against public participation.")

Several domestic olive oil brands had also been sued alongside Oz.

Fraud in the olive oil business is, in fact, a longstanding problem. A 1917 Missouri court case, Lo Buono v. V. Viviano & Bros Macaroni Mfg. Co., centered on fraudulent olive oil, as did a 1950 federal case involving another producer. In the past decade, The New Yorker has dedicated at least two lengthy pieces to the issue of fraudulent olive oil. And Congress recently held hearings on the issue.

The fictional Corleone crime family in Mario Puzo's The Godfather used its olive oil business, Genco, as a cover for its criminal activities. That depiction of mafia involvement in the olive oil trade isn't far from the truth in some cases. Facing U.S. tax fraud charges in 1951, mafia boss and drug trafficker Francisco Paolo Coppola claimed to earn much of his income as an olive oil producer.

How does such fraud play out? An olive oil might be misbranded, claiming to be of higher quality than it really is—from an earlier pressing, for example—or to be from one country but hail from another. Or it might be adulterated, containing—for example—a mix of olive oil and other less expensive food oils.

In fact, the NAOOA, which represents many foreign olive oil producers, whose products make up the bulk of the olive oil sold in the United States, is itself keen to identify and prevent such fraud in the industry. A 2015 report issued by the group, for example, raises "significant questions" about the quality of California olive oils tested by NAOOA.

The NAOOA clearly understands the value of free speech.

Listen, I think Oz is a quack. Forbes writer Kavin Senapathy, whose writings expose quackery around food, was probably right when she called Oz's olive oil segment as "yet another gag in his lineup of shady antics."

But it's also another reminder of attacks on Dr. Oz's First Amendment rights.

In 2014, Oz was called before Congress to explain his claims about a variety of foods and supplements he claims have particular health-promotion qualities.

"Oz has absolutely zero responsibility to hold mainstream views and every right to make money off of those views," I wrote in a 2014 piece defending Oz's free-speech rights and attacking Congress for attempting to intimidate him into silence. "His popularity has absolutely no impact on his right to say whatever the hell he wants to say. And being hauled before Congress for saying what he wants places a tremendous burden on his, your, and my First Amendment rights."

As a reminder, the First Amendment protects speech regardless of its subjective value. It protects speech by neo-Nazis and Black Muslims, pornographers and religious zealots, and climate change alarmists and deniers alike. And your right to speak freely is stronger today thanks to a renowned medical doctor who freely espouses many views that appear, by any reasonable measure, to be objectively false.

Critics of Oz are free to rail against his idiocies. I hope they'll continue to do so. But when courts and lawmakers attempt to intimidate him into silence, they are more apt to turn Dr. Oz into a First Amendment hero than expose what he truly is.

NEXT: Trump's Schwarzenegger Problem

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  1. Interesting that Italy and Spain doesn’t have stringent standards in place for labeling Olive Oil products given Europe’s propensity to over regulate that sort of thing for food and beverage alike. I’m never quite sure which olive oil I should buy. I assume they’re all basically the same. I suppose I should start doing taste comparisons. Wasn’t it Oprah who give us the gift of Dr. Oz?

    1. Interesting that Italy and Spain doesn’t have stringent standards in place for labeling Olive Oil products given Europe’s propensity to over regulate that sort of thing for food and beverage alike.

      Olive oil is governed by EU Regulation 29/2012, and regulations work directly and cannot be duplicated in national law. (In contrast, directives work through their implementations in national law, so if there was a directive on olive oil, every country including Finland would need a law on it.)

      Said regulation is however unusually short for a piece of EU goodthink. Also, on a funny note, there are references to 2004 in text (copied from the previous regulation). Copy-paste is evil, even EU is powerless against it.

      1. Yeh, the crux of the problem is claiming ‘Italian EVOO’ when in fact it’s a different press from another country or not from said region. Italy has two problems on its hands with ‘Agra-Mafia’ and its dying olive trees. Countries like Turkey and Tunisia have benefitted from it.

        But the flip side to this is it hasn’t impacted the quality of its olive oils through legitimate producers who continue to produce world class stuff.


        1. Countries like Turkey and Tunisia have benefitted from it.

          Related: Greek rice “miracle” (exports increased ~fivefold in ~10 years)

          1. It warms my cockles to know that the is a ricepedia website.

    2. Interesting that Italy and Spain doesn’t have stringent standards in place for labeling Olive Oil products given Europe’s propensity to over regulate that sort of thing for food and beverage alike

      Yes, very interesting. Overregulating leftists failed to overregulate labels for olive oil. So the complaint is that they fooled your perception or that they didn’t?

      1. One might argue that olive oil reveals the necessity of a powerful regulatory state: it was regulated insufficiently, and now the market is dominated by fraudulent olive oil.

  2. I’ve heard Dr. Oz isn’t even a real Ozzie.

    1. Everyone knows that Emerald City is in America.

  3. I almost needed a score card to figure out who was supposed to be the bad guy in this one.

    1. Why assume there is a good guy?

    2. Its like a spaghetti western – they’re all bad guys.

  4. Just find a grocer or store that imports directly from the producer. That’s what I’ve done.

  5. Listen, I think Oz is a quack.

    You’re not alone.

    Nothing Oz says should be illegal, and the government shouldn’t care what he says.

    Columbia University should. They’ve taken a principled stand in this case in allowing their faculty member to say whatever he pleases. That’s laudable. OTOH, I wouldn’t necessarily take issue if they let him go. Some speech should be punished. Just not by government.

    1. There’s no question he’s a quack and wouldn’t put a second of effort into his claims.

      1. Or ‘peddles quackery’.

  6. “Cruel cuts signal pension crisis”
    “The decimated pensions are not only the latest of countless warnings to irresponsible officials. They’re also a reminder that in the worst cases, government retirees, many of whom depend on modest benefits, face the brunt of the repercussions.”

    Yep, they actually wrote “modest benefits”.

  7. Well there are a lot of fake olive oils in the market. That is why I get mine shipped directly from a California producer.

    1. How do you know they aren’t cutting it with canola?

  8. I think it is relevant that he is speaking as “Dr” Oz and fails to disclose his financial ties to his bogus medical advice.

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  10. Dovetails nicely with Tomatoland. Fake olive oil on fake vegetables..

    1. Next door to Mozza Mountain, you know, in the antipasto barrio, just south of the hammock district.

  11. This is heartening. As fucked up as Mehmet is, and thank you Oprah for unleashing this quack, I’d hate for this asshole to be a precedent for shutting down free speech criticism. No, I would not die for this asshole’s rights to “say it” but will gladly support our judiciary in upholding that.

    Critics of Oz are free to rail against his idiocies. I hope they’ll continue to do so.
    I hope so too, but not at reason.com. Where the article started off promisingly celebrating the upholding of free speech and ever-so-cleverly veered into a faint defense of Mehmet’s positions.

    Typical rightwing tactic. Find odd, very few cases where the olive oil industry fucked up and promote them as being the norm.

    1. Find odd, very few cases where the olive oil industry fucked up and promote them as being the norm.

      As the basis of the existence of the FDA/USDA, this is standard operating procedure for statists of all stripes.

  12. good olive oil loses much of it’s benefits with age and exposure to light. So it should have a produced by date, and be in dark glass. If it’s not, its no good.

  13. read…Real Food Fake Food….virtually all olive oil is fake in the usa..in fact most of the food we consume wouldnt be allowed in the EU..wine ,cheese, meats. seafood.an education is worth the read

    1. alarmist every where which alarmist to believe, none will ever know the truth even those who believe they know

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  15. Love me an anti-SLAPP motion — one of the very few tools a civil defendant has to get out of a case at the onset. Once you have to start paying for discovery (tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees), from an economic standpoint you’ve already lost.

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