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Tuesday, January 20, 1998 Published at 08:22 GMT


Oprah Winfrey faces mad cow libel suit

Oprah Winfrey is in Amarillo, Texas for the start of a $12m libel trial after she claimed on her show she would never eat another burger because of the risk from BSE.

The area around Amarillo, Texas where the trial will take place produces 25 percent of America's grain-fed cattle, and the city's biggest private employer is a slaughterhouse.

[ image: Bumper sticker indicates extent of local opposition]
Bumper sticker indicates extent of local opposition
Oprah Winfrey's lawyers tried unsuccessfully to get her case moved to Dallas claiming that they could not get an impartial jury.

Stopped cold

In April 1996 she invited ex-rancher Howard Lyman onto her program.

[ image: Howard Lyman]
Howard Lyman
He alleged that feeding ground-up animal parts to cattle was a common practice and "if only one of them has mad cow disease it has the potential to infect thousands."

On hearing this, she said: "It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger."

Beef price nose-dive

Within minutes of the broadcast, beef prices fell to their lowest levels in years.

Paul Engler, an Amarillo rancher, and other plaintiffs claimed her statement caused them to lose $12m, and have sued her for damages using new so-called "veggie libel" laws.

These laws, which opponents see as unconstitutional barriers to free speech, forbid criticism of food products unless it is backed by scientific evidence.

The US ordered a halt to the practice of feeding most animal parts to cattle last year.

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