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Thursday, October 30, 1997

Emu ranchers sue Honda over commercial

AMARILLO, Texas (AP) -- First Oprah, now Honda.

In a second Amarillo federal lawsuit based on Texas' agricultural slander law, a group of emu breeders has sued American Honda Motor Co. over a commercial that pokes fun at emus, among other things.

The commercial depicts a man taking his Honda from one unusual job interview to another. One of his stops is an emu farm where a caricaturish rancher tells the aspirant the large birds are the "pork of the future."

"The advertisement placed emu in a false light by depicting it as a scam and a meat whose properties were those of pork. When, in fact, the emu is the antithesis of pork, and its breeders ... are hardworking, honest Americans," the lawsuit filed last week states.

Emus yield lean red meat. Pork is a white meat.

Art Garner, spokesman for California-based American Honda, said Wednesday that the company had yet to be served.

"From time to time we've had an ad taken the wrong way by some people," Garner said. "The ad in question is very much a tongue-in-cheek, humorous-type advertisement, as most of ours are. In fact, we got several letters and calls from emu farmers who appreciated the visibility they received."

The commercial for the Honda Civic ran nationally last winter and spring.

Last year, a Texas cattle feeder sued Oprah Winfrey after an anti-meat activist on her show implied that a brain disease was a threat to American beef eaters. That case eventually could be the Supreme Court test for similar "veggie libel" laws in other states.

Veggie libel laws sprouted after a "60 Minutes" report in 1989 on the apple growth regulator Alar sent prices plummeting. Since then, more than a dozen states have passed laws against falsely disparaging products.

The 10 emu raisers, mostly from the Huntsville area, claim that the advertisement cost each of them at least $75,000 by devaluing emus. The lawsuit also said the commercial "was an attempt by the Japanese to belittle and disparage American traditions and to associate the emu industry to that of a pyramid scheme."

The emu breeding industry reportedly has been in a slump for the past few years. A mid-1990s plunge in emu prices caused many investors to lose money, though the industry is trying to rebound by aggressively marketing the animals' oils.

Breeding pairs that would have sold for $50,000 a few years ago might bring less than $1,000 today, one breeder said recently.

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