Welcome to the Ag & Food Law Blog

Welcome to the Ag & Food Law Blog, a comprehensive news, research, and information resource on agricultural and food law for the nation’s agricultural community. 

It is provided by the National Agricultural Law Center, the nation’s leading source of agricultural and food law research and information.  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.

Lawmakers want to make poultry companies responsible for chicken manure in Maryland

Posted February 4, 2016

The Baltimore Sun reports that some Maryland lawmakers want to make large poultry processors responsible for the manure generated by their chickens on contract farms.

The bill, known as the Poultry Litter Requirement Act, would hold poultry companies responsible for the manure from their birds and require them to remove excess manure from their contracted farms.

Large chicken companies provide food and medication for the birds they own, but chickens are raised at contracted farms. Once the contract growers return the birds to the chicken companies, they are left with manure and bedding material they can use as fertilizer or sell.

Environmentalists contend these practices place an undue burden on farmers. Per the Star Democrat, farmers on the Eastern Shore of Maryland historically use poultry manure as fertilizer for crops, which results in excess phosphorus saturating farm lands and leeching into and running off into Chesapeake Bay waters. This contributes heavily to the estuary’s pollution problems. 

House sponsor Clarence Lam told the Star Democrat that he wanted to make sure the cleanup burden isn’t placed on small chicken growers, as “they’re often the ones being squeezed by the large integrators.”

Spokesperson Julie DeYoung of Perdue Farms, one of the state’s largest poultry integrators, told the Star Democrat,“Through our Perdue AgriRecycle organic fertilizer facility, for nearly 15 years we have been the only poultry company in the Chesapeake Bay region that provides an environmentally responsible alternative to land application. Those who claim we are putting the responsibility for poultry litter on our farmers are choosing to ignore this fact.”

The bill is backed by some Democrats in the General Assembly, but will likely be opposed by the poultry industry, which, according to the Baltimore Sun, has a powerful voice in Annapolis.  Poultry is the largest agricultural industry on the Eastern Shore, and a large part of Maryland’s economy. 

Additional info on the bill may be found here.

(photo courtesy pixabay.com)

Agricultural & Food Law Consortium announces funding opportunity

Posted February 3, 2016
The Agricultural & Food Law Consortium is seeking formal collaboration with individuals, organizations, and institutions to conduct research and outreach activities that support the delivery of objective agricultural and food law research and information to the nation’s agricultural community. 

The announcement linked below sets out information pertaining to funding availability, the application process and timelines and other related information.  Questions and inquiries about this opportunity can be directed to Harrison Pittman, Director, National Agricultural Law Center, at hmpittm@uark.edu.

Per the announcement:

Letters of Interest are limited to two pages. Letters of Interest must set forth the specific interests and relevant expertise of the applicant(s), a narrative description of proposed project, anticipated month-by-month timelines for deliverables, and proposed funding needs. In addition, Letters of Interest must clearly indicate the agricultural and food law topic that will be addressed and the specific type of deliverable(s) that will be undertaken during the course of the project. 

Importantly, Letters of Interest must be submitted via email in letter format (PDF) to Harrison Pittman at hmpittm@uark.edu by 5:00 PM eastern on February 12, 2016.

A copy of the Consortium’s formal Call for Letters of Interest is available here.

Spending on farm subsidies to spike over the next three years

Posted February 2, 2016
According to new government spending projections released by the Congressional Budget Office, spending on farm subsidies will soar in the next three years. 

Subsidies in the 2014 Farm Bill will cost a lot more than initially projected, according to the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group opposed to farm subsidies. 

Although Congress eliminated direct payments to farmers a few years ago, they replaced them with two subsidy programs known as Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC County) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC). The 2014 Farm Bill authorized both programs. The Congressional Budget Office believed this change would save taxpayers billions of dollars over the life of the Farm Bill. 

However, the Environmental Working Group’s analysis of the CBO's projections contends that government payments for the Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage subsidies will cost an additional $8 billion over the next three years -- 70 percent more than originally estimated by CBO when Congress passed the Farm Bill in January 2014.

Similarly, Agriculture.com’s farm subsidy analysis finds that the government faces three high-cost years, beginning with $5.8 billion in 2016. Low commodity prices will likely increase the cost of programs that help stabilize crop revenue. Furthermore, the CBO’s latest budget forecasts that crop subsidies will cost a total of $22 billion for fiscal 2016, 2017, and 2018 -- a 9% increase from the estimate it made a year ago of $20.1 billion for those years.

The main recipients would be corn, soybean, wheat, and peanut growers. Corn, soybeans, and wheat are the three most widely planted crops in the country, grown on 225 million acres while peanuts are planted on about 1.6 to 1.7 million acres annually. Corn farmers were projected to get $10.5 billion from 2016 to 2018, soybean growers $3.5 billion, wheat growers $2.9 billion, and peanuts $1.7 billion, per agriculture.com.

The Congressional Budget Office's newest estimates for Farm Bill spending may be viewed here.

Chobani ordered to stop running ads against rival yogurt maker Dannon

Posted February 2, 2016
A federal judge ruled last Friday that New York-based yogurt maker Chobani must cease running ads claiming Dannon’s light Greek yogurt contains chlorine and is not safe to eat.

According to the New York Post, Dannon sent a cease-and-desist letter to Chobani after it launched ads attacking Dannon Light and Fit. The ads claim Chobani Simply 100 is the only 100-calorie Greek yogurt with zero preservatives.

One of the Chobani commercials is described as showing a young woman lounging by a pool chair and reaching for a cup of Dannon yogurt. A voiceover states, “Dannon Light & Fit Greek actually uses artificial sweeteners like sucralose. Sucralose? Why? That stuff has chlorine added to it!” The voiceover concludes, “Now, there’s Chobani Simply 100. It’s the only 100-calorie light yogurt sweetened naturally.”  

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge David Hurd concluded that Chobani "is free to continue to spread its message about the value of selecting natural ingredients," but may not disseminate false messages, including that Dannon's or General Mills's products are unsafe because they contain the sweetener sucralose and the preservative potassium sorbate, according to website mediapost.com.

Sucralose and potassium sorbate are generally recognized as safe by U.S. food regulators. Judge Hurd also wrote that "the balance of record evidence reflects that sucralose is an unusually well-studied compound repeatedly determined to be safe for ordinary consumption.”

Per mediapost.com, Hurd reasoned that courts "regularly recognize that even where 'no combination of words' found in the advertisement is untrue, the message conveyed by the advertisement may still be 'literally false' if its clear meaning, considered in context, is false.”

Chobani, for its part, sued Dannon in US District Court in Albany over the attempt to block its advertising. Chobani Chief Marketing and Brand Officer Peter McGuinness told AdAge, "This is not a marketing campaign, it's a mindset campaign, and it outlines the difference between using only natural ingredients versus artificial ingredients.”

Chobani later declared via twitter, “The conversation about how food is made in our country is just beginning.”

More information and clips of the ads are available here.

(Photo courtesy pixabay.com)

Washington Attorney General alleges intentional deception by Grocery Manufacturers Association

Posted January 28, 2016
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson wants to penalize the Grocery Manufacturers Association. His office contends the group violated Washington's campaign finance laws during a 2013 campaign to defeat an initiative that would have required labeling genetically engineered foods. GMA is a Washington, D.C.-based trade association and was the largest single donor to the “No on 522” political committee.

Ferguson’s office sued the group in October 2013, alleging it collected over $11 million from its members. It further alleged that those funds were placed in a special account used to oppose Initiative 522, without disclosing the true source of the contributions.

The Attorney General filed a motion January 22 seeking summary judgment in the case, State v. Grocery Manufacturers Association. A GMA spokesman told the Associated Press they filed a complaint seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed, saying that the complaint is "an unconstitutional limitation on GMA's freedom to speak on behalf of its members."

In a statement released by his office, Attorney General Ferguson stated, “The crux of this case is transparency. GMA intentionally shielded from public scrutiny the true identity of the companies who donated millions of dollars to this campaign — it was a flagrant violation of state law.”

The initiative was defeated with 51 percent of the vote.

The Washington AG’s official news release is available here.

(Photo courtesy pixabay.com)

USDA to determine whether cottonseed can be designated an “other oilseed”

Posted on January 26, 2016
A decision on whether USDA can make cottonseed an “other oilseed” is coming soon, according to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Supporters believe listing cottonseed as a commodity under the 2014 Farm Bill would help troubled farmers. US cotton producers, lawmakers and even soybean producers have pushed for cottonseed to be considered an “other oilseed” under provisions of the bill. Such a designation could make cottonseed eligible for safety net programs like Ag Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC).

Several USDA agencies are involved in the process. At issue is whether USDA has the authority to do so and whether such a move would be WTO compliant. Vilsack told USDA Radio, “The General Counsel’s office is involved, the Foreign Ag Service is involved, the Farm Service Agency is involved, so that I get a 360-degree review of this issue so we can try to figure out what we can do to be as helpful as we can be within the confines of the law.”

The oilseed category includes other commodities such as canola and flaxseed.

Some believe budget issues are a major question regarding a decision, an issue reportedly raised by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Earlier this month, 100 representatives in the U.S. House signed a letter to Vilsack supporting the designation. 

More information is available here