Welcome to the Ag & Food Law Blog

This blog provides a comprehensive news, research, and information resource on agricultural and food law for the nation’s agricultural community. 

It is provided as a partnership of The National Agricultural Law Center, the nation’s leading source of agricultural and food law research and information, and the American Agricultural Law Association, the only national professional organization focusing on the legal needs of the agricultural community.  Located in Fayetteville, Arkansas the National Agricultural Law Center serves the nation's agricultural community and is a unit of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.  In addition, the Center leads the eXtension Community of Practice for Agricultural and Food Law.

Senators Requesting Immediate Withdrawal of New CWA Regulations

Posted October 24, 2014

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Republican members of the Senate Agriculture Committee have requested that the newly released agriculture rule released in conjunction with the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) proposal be immediately withdrawn, according to a press release available here. Agri-Pulse also published an article available here.

Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Cochran, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and John Thune (R-S.D.) have written a letter asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide an “update on implementation of the agriculture Interpretive Rule and requested its immediate withdrawal.”

“We have heard from farmers, ranchers, and other rural constituents about the Interpretive Rule and are deeply concerned it has created great confusion about what agriculture activities are exempt from regulation under the Clean Water Act,” the Senators wrote in a letter.

The senators said that the WOTUS regulations would bring more waters including, streams, creeks, wetlands, ponds, and ditches under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act (CWA) subjecting them to EPA permitting requirements. The agriculture Interpretive Rule outlines only 56 activities out of more than 160 conservation practices that previously qualified for the normal farming and ranching exemption, according to Agri-Pulse.

“Beyond adding confusion and uncertainty, the Interpretive Rule would fundamentally change the relationship between the Department of Agriculture and farm families. Over decades of farm policy, USDA has established an unprecedented relationship of trust with farmers, ranchers, and rural stakeholders. This unique relationship is built on voluntary conservation programs and a mutual commitment to protecting natural resources and keeping land in agriculture. Bringing USDA into the Clean Water Act permitting process would profoundly shift the nature of this successful approach by dismantling a longstanding partnership between the Federal government and agriculture community,” the Senators wrote.

Now, the Senators are calling for more “transparency and stakeholder involvement.”

“As the administration continues to extend the timeframe for finalization of the flawed WOTUS proposal, any further discussion of how agricultural activities may fit into this framework must allow for a transparent and public process in which the voice of American agriculture can be heard,” the Senators' letter concluded.

For more information, a copy of the Senators’ letter is available here.

For more information on the Clean Water Act, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.

Vilsack Announced New Crop Insurance Program

Posted October 23, 2014

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced a new Farm Bill initiative that will provide relief to farmers that were affected by severe weather, including drought, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) news release available here. Agri-Pulse also published an article available here, Hoosier Ag here, and Politico here.

The Actual Production History (APH) Yield Exclusion will be available nationwide in spring 2015, and it allows eligible producers, those who have suffered severe weather, to receive a higher approved yield on their insurance policies through the federal crop insurance program.

Crops eligible for APH Yield Exclusion include corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, grain sorghum, rice, barley, canola, sunflowers, peanuts, and popcorn. Almost three-fourths of all acres and liability in the federal crop insurance program will be covered under APH Yield Exclusion.

Secretary Tom Vilsack said the provision allows growers to manage their risk more efficiently, according to Hoosier Ag Today.

“Key programs launched or extended as part of the 2014 Farm Bill are essential to USDA’s commitment to help rural communities grow. These efforts give farmers, ranchers, and their families better security as they work to ensure Americans have safe and affordable food. By getting other 2014 Farm Bill programs implemented efficiently, we are now able to offer yield exclusion for Spring 2015 crops, providing relief to farmers impacted by severe weather,” said Vilsack.

The original implementation date was scheduled for 2016. The earlier release will be an extra burden for crop insurance companies. Vilsack’s staff and the Risk Management Agency (RMA), which oversees the federal crop insurance program, have “downplayed” the politics surrounding the situation, according to Politico.

“It’s not about elections; it’s not about politics. It’s about good, hard-working people doing their job and doing a helluva job,” said Vilsack.

David Cleavinger, a Texas Wheat Producers Association (TWPA) board member and Texas farmer, said that without this APH change, after several years of severe drought his crop insurance coverage will continue to erode. 

“I haven't harvested an acre of dryland wheat since 2010,” said Cleavinger. “I ran very conservative figures on one dryland wheat section in Deaf Smith County, and by dropping the yields from three qualifying years, I would be able to increase my APH from 23 bushels per acre, to 28.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., commended Secretary Vilsack and his team on their implementation efforts.

“The APH adjustment means everything to farmers all across the country who have suffered through year after year of devastating drought conditions. It is the difference between having viable crop insurance for the coming year or not. It is for these reasons that I worked to include the APH adjustment in the farm bill and why I am pleased the Secretary redoubled his efforts to get it done this year. I remain hopeful that USDA will also work to make the same relief available to winter wheat producers," said Lucas.

For more information on farm bills and disaster programs, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here and here.

WTO Ruled in Favor of U.S.

Posted October 15, 2014

India broke several World Trade Organization (WTO) trade rules when it banned imports of American poultry, meat, eggs and live pigs according to an article on the Des Moines Register available here. USA Today also published an article available here and Reuters here.

In 2007, the trade panel struck down an agricultural ban by India to prevent avian influenza from making its way into the country even though the United States has not had a case since 2004.

“India’s ban was thinly veiled protectionism. Free and fair trade, particularly with food, should never be used as a political bargaining chip,” said James Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Council, and Michael Brown, president of the National Chicken Council, according to Reuters.

India has 60 days to appeal the WTO ruling.

The ruling could increase imports of poultry and eggs from the U.S., even though India could restrict them using other measures including, anti-dumping duties if U.S. exporters tried to sell their products at cheap prices.

David Miller, director of research and commodity services for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, said the decisions by the Indian government have “hurt U.S. farmers and denied consumers the choice of buying American-made products,” according to

"Iowa and U.S. farmers want a level playing field for international trade and we are confident that the WTO dispute resolution process provides an avenue for that to happen," Miller said. "We want all WTO members to abide by the rules that have been established and to avoid using arbitrary, non-scientific claims to prevent competition."

For more information on international law and organizations, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.

Lawsuit Testing Chimpanzee's Right as Legal Person

Posted October 10, 2014

On Wednesday, a state appellate court heard cases about whether a chimpanzee can be considered a “legal person” and sue for freedom, according to a New York Times article by Jesse McKinley available here. MSN News also published an article available here, NPR here, and TIME here.

The case concerns Tommy, a 26-year-old chimp, with no job or criminal record whose forced to live in a small cage.

The Nonhuman Rights Project, an animal rights group in Florida, lost its initial bid to have a lower-court judge rule whether the chimp was unlawfully imprisoned.

“He can understand the past, he can anticipate the future and he suffers as much in solitary confinement as a human being,” said Steven Wise, president of Nonhuman Rights Project.

Wise plans to take their case to the highest court in New York, the Court of Appeals, if they are shut down again, according to MSN News.

"Personhood is the legal word, but it's not synonymous with human," said Wise.

The Nonhuman Rights Project details scientific studies in a 65-page brief to argue that chimpanzees are “autonomous, self-aware, highly intelligent beings that fit the profile courts have previously used in recognizing ‘legal persons.’"

Earlier this year, a preliminary injunction prevented Tommy from being moved outside the state, according to NPR.

The Nonhuman Rights Project has stated that the case will not end with Tommy, according to TIME.

“Our goal is, very simply, to breach the legal wall that separates all humans from all nonhuman animals.”

For more information on animal welfare, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.

Senators Making Efforts to Keep COOL

Posted October 8, 2014

On Monday, a group of 32 U.S. Senators urged Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Richard Shelby to ensure legislation that would eliminate Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is not included in fiscal year 2015, according to a Farm Futures article by Janell Thomas available here. KEVN also published an article here and Food Safety News here.

COOL provides consumers with trustworthy information regarding the origin of meat by labeling the country in which the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered.

Thirty-two senators have written a letter to leaders of the Appropriations Committee requesting that they delay the COOL rule until the trade dispute between Canada and Mexico has resolved, according to Food Safety News.

“As the Senate debates how to provide funding for the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2015, we urge you to reject efforts to weaken or suspend [COOL] through any continuing resolution or omnibus appropriations bill,” wrote the signatories, who include Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Mike Enzi (R-WY).

The letter also states that it is "critical that Congress not short–circuit ongoing efforts to support American producers and consumers," according to KEVN.

The Senators also noted that efforts to undermine the COOL rule before completion of the World Trade Organization (WTO) process would "disadvantage American producers and roll-back the transparency within out meat markets," according to Farm Futures.

COOL supporters have suggested that if the rule is upheld, it will continue to put a burden on the packing industry and put pressure on trade relations with both Canada and Mexico.

For more information on Country of Origin Labeling, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.

U.S., Brazil Resolve Decade-Long Dispute

Posted October 2, 2014

On Wednesday, The U.S. and Brazil ended a decade-long dispute over subsidies paid to cotton growers, according to a Reuters article by Paulo Whitaker available here. ABC News also published an article here, The Hill here, and Feedstuffs here.

As part of the agreement, the U.S. will pay $300 million to the Brazil Cotton Institute and Brazil will not take any further trade measures against the United States.

“Today’s agreement brings to a close a matter which put hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. exports at risk," said U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman. 

The agreement resolves a fight between the two countries since 2002 when “Brazil brought a case against the United States charging that the subsidies Washington paid American cotton farmers were a violation of global trade rules.” The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled in Brazil's favor and the U.S. was forced to make annual payments, according to ABC News.

The agreement also allows the Obama administration to implement the farm bill. A new insurance measure intended for cotton growers was created to comply with the WTO ruling that previous cotton support payments violated WTO rules against subsidies.

A House Democrat expressed concerns about the agreement, according to The Hill.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said the United States, “never should have been in a situation where we have to pay off Brazil while vulnerable families suffer.”

“Our farm subsidies need serious reform and the last farm bill simply extends the status quo. The best way to resolve this issue is to remove our market-distorting cotton payments,” said Rep. DeLauro.

Secretary Vilsack also made a statement, according to Feedstuffs.

"Through this negotiated solution, the United States and Brazil can finally put this dispute behind us. Without this agreement, American businesses, including agricultural businesses and producers, could have faced countermeasures in the way of increased tariffs totaling hundreds of millions of dollars every year. This removes that threat and ensures American cotton farmers will have effective risk management tools."

For more information on international law and organizations, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.