On April 16, 1996, Oprah Winfrey featured former cattle farmer turned vegetarian activist, Howard Lyman, as part of the Humane Society's, Eating with Conscience Campaign. The topic was Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) which is very similar to mad cow disease. Only one month earlier the British Government had announced that 10 citizens were dead or dying from mad cow disease. The disease can lie dormant inside of a person for years, and would only be discovered when the victim began to experience Alzheimer's like symptoms. Lyman made a comparison between BSE and AIDS, then raised the possibility that a form of mad cow disease could exist in the U.S. Lyman also suggested that the practice of grinding up dead cattle and feeding it to other cows as a protein supplement in cattle feed might have contributed to a potential outbreak. Oprah was horrified by the possibility that something like this could exist right under our noses. She asked, " you say this disease could make AIDS look like the common cold?" "Absolutely," Lyman responded. To which Oprah responded, "It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger." Obviously this got cattle ranchers into an uproar, and investors and consumers panicked and cattle futures dropped that same day and drop to even further lows for two months. This dramatic drop in beef consumption shows just how powerful the effects of mass-media can be on the public. This show came on the heels of a massive story about tainted beef in Great Britain, so tensions were already running high.
Millionaire rancher Paul Engler led the group of cattle ranchers who filed a $12 million lawsuit against Winfrey, her production companies and Lyman. Their claim was that Oprah and Lyman were liable for damages due to the comments made on her show. They alleged that Winfrey and Lyman had violated the 1995 Texas disparagement law, or the "veggie libel law," which seeks to protect farmers against false claims.