If you are traveling through Colorado, watch what you say about the food. Cast no aspersions on the asparagus. Slander not the celery. Don't libel the lettuce.

The folks who live in the Rocky Mountain State have become unfriendly to the sort of people who might ruin the reputation of a rutabaga. They have a bill, about to face its last legislative hurdle, that would make it possible to take legal action against someone who knowingly and falsely trashed the turnips.People could be sued, in the words of the bill, for disseminating "any false information which is not based on reliable scientific facts and scientific data, which the disseminator knows or should have known to be false and which casts doubt on the safety of any perishable agricultural food product to the consuming public." With such an anti-defamation of fruits, grains and veggies rule, it would be safer to say something against a person in Colorado than against a pear.

The originator of this peachy new limit on free speech is Steve Acquafresca, an apple farmer and state legislator who has had it up to his Adam's apple with food-safety critics. Ever since the Alar scare left the McIntoshes to rot in 1989, many farmers have looked for a pesticide to feed the critics.

Could you then be sued in Colorado for saying "meat is bad for you" or "don't eat eggs" or even "chemicals can cause cancer"? Acquafresca answers unequivocally without even checking the scientific data, "I don't know."

As often happens when people start figuring out new ways to slice and dice free speech, this bill would muzzle alarms as well as alarmists. Yelling "cancer" in the middle of a harvest, says Acquafresca, "is like yelling fire in a crowded theater." That's the classic argument about the limits of free speech.

About 20 years ago, Justice William O. Douglas put forth the notion that valleys, meadows, rivers, lakes and trees should have legal standing. But even he didn't suggest rights for the radicchio and the radish.

If a salad can sue because its safety has been questioned, how long till it can sue for alienation of affection, or invasion of privacy, or all the other abuses and misunderstandings heaped upon its lowly platter? Indeed, with all the rules against "hate speech" on college campuses, it could soon be illegal to spew epithets about eggplants.

As for the long-disparaged garlic bud, how long must it listen to those horrible accusations without hiring a lawyer? Shouldn't the maligned Brussels sprout have a right to its day in court? Doesn't the attitude toward onions bring tears to your eyes?

Somewhere I can imagine what the lawyer for a head of broccoli could do to the current head of state. So sue me, but with all due respect to the almond crop, the latest idea from Colorado is nuts.