Judge dismisses lawsuit against Dr. Oz over fake olive oil claims

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By Sarah N. Lynch | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON Television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz
won a legal victory after a judge dismissed a lawsuit alleging
he violated a Georgia food libel law after making claims on his
show that some imported olive oil sold in U.S. supermarkets
could be fake.

The New Jersey-based North American Olive Oil Association
filed the lawsuit against Oz last November in the state court in
Fulton County, Georgia, seeking an unspecified amount in damages
and payment for the group’s legal fees.

The group accused Oz, who hosts the syndicated “The Dr. Oz
Show,” of violating a largely untested food libel law when he
stated on a show that aired last May that 80 percent of the
extra virgin olive oil imported into the country “isn’t the real
deal” and “may even be fake.”

The group also complained that the show failed to disclose
that its featured guest and “certified oleologist” Maia
Hirschbein is employed by the California Olive Ranch, which
competes directly with foreign olive oil makers.

“We value the confidence our viewers place in us every day,
including this program which fairly reported on the mislabeling
of extra-virgin olive oil,” Dr. Oz said in a statement. He added
the lawsuit was just an attempt to “stifle the show” in its
pursuit of truth about what is in America’s food.

Oz and his production company sought to have the complaint
dismissed, saying the statements he made were protected under an “Anti-SLAPP” law that shields people from having their free
speech limited through abuse of the judicial process.

The judge agreed late Thursday with the show’s arguments for
dismissal.

“The court has grave concerns that the motivation for the
present action falls squarely within the purpose of the
anti-SLAPP statute as an attempt to chill speech,” wrote Judge
Alford Dempsey, Jr.

He added that he found there were “no statements made of any
kind on the show that olive oil is unsafe for human consumption”
and that the group failed to show “a scintilla of evidence” to
support claims it suffered any financial injury.

A spokeswoman for the North American Olive Oil Association
said the group is disappointed by the ruling.

“Nothing in the decision lends credence to the
unsubstantiated attacks on olive oil made on The Dr. Oz segment
and we are evaluating our options for appeal,” she said.

Georgia is among 13 states that have adopted food libel
laws, which generally have a lower legal burden of proof
compared with traditional libel laws and make it easier for food
companies to sue people who make disparaging remarks about their
products.



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