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.

Federal judge rules Maui County GMO ban invalid

Posted July 2, 2015

A federal judge ruled that a Maui County ban on the cultivation of genetically engineered (GMO) crops is pre-empted by federal and state law and invalid, according to a Capital Press article available here. Honolulu Civil Beat also published an article available here and ABC News here.

The county’s ordinance exceeded the county’s authority, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway said in her order.

The county, which is a major center for research on GMO crops, will abide by the decision, spokesman Rod Antone said. Monsanto Co. and Dow Chemical Co. unit Agrigenetics Inc. both have research farms in the county.

Mollway emphasized that the ruling is not a statement on whether genetically modified organisms are beneficial or detrimental, according to Honolulu Civil Beat.

“The court recognizes the importance of questions about whether GE activities and GMOs pose risks to human health, the environment, and the economy, and about how citizens may participate in democratic processes,” she said. “But any court is a reactive body that addresses matters before it rather than reaching out to grab hold of whatever matters may catch a judge’s fancy because the matters are interesting, important, or of great concern to many people.”

Mark Sheehan, one of five citizens who sponsored the ballot initiative, said his group would appeal the order. He expressed disappointment that Mollway ruled on what he called procedural issues instead of addressing the substance of their argument, according to Capital Press.

Monsanto said in a statement after the ruling that it welcomes "the opportunity to continue to have conversations" with the community, according to ABC News.

"We're listening and we've heard the concerns some people have about GMOs and today's farming practices. Our commitment to ongoing dialogue with our neighbors doesn't stop today," said John Purcell, vice president and Monsanto's lead for business and technology in Hawaii.

There has been little scientific evidence to prove that foods grown from engineered seeds are less safe than their conventional counterparts. But fears persist in Hawaii and elsewhere. In the islands, these concerns are compounded by worries about the companies' use of pesticides.

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

'Right to Farm' upheld by Missouri Supreme Court

Posted July 2, 2015

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that state’s so-called Right To Farm amendment remains constitutional, according to a KBLA article available here. The Missouri Times also published an article available here and Columbia Daily Tribune here.

The Right to Farm amendment is intended to protect Missouri farmers from new laws that would change current farm practices. It was added to the state Constitution in August 2014 by a slim margin of votes.

Some critics, including many small farmers and animal rights groups, claim the ballot language was misleading to voters and opens the door for foreign corporations to exploit Missouri farmland. 

The court also ruled that residents could challenge ballot language after an election, which could lead to questionable summaries being disputed in later cases, according to the Columbia Tribune.

Agricultural groups applauded the court’s opinion, calling the case “desperate,” according to the Missouri Times.

“We are pleased the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in favor of upholding the election results for Amendment #1, the Missouri Farming Rights Amendment, approved last August,” said Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst. “This was a desperate attempt by the opponents to thwart the will of a majority of Missouri voters by retrospectively claiming the ballot language was inadequate. As Missourians we now have in our state constitution a much needed protection for the right of consumers to have adequate and affordable food choices and the right of farmers and ranchers to produce that food safely and humanely.”

Missouri was the second state to add the right to farm to its Constitution – North Dakota was first. Several Midwest states have been playing with similar amendments or laws, according to KBIA.

The Court’s decision is available here.

The briefs, summary of the briefs and oral argument audio file are available here.

For more information on Right to Farm laws and for a compilation of states’ Right to Farm statutes, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.

United Airlines flight to run on animal fat and farm waste

Posted July 1, 2015

United Airlines will soon use biofuel made from animal oil and by-products as early as this summer, according to a Daily Mail article available here. The New York Times also published an article available here and KMBZ here.

This is the biggest deal to date with a company producing biofuel derived from municipal solid waste, or household garbage, to run alongside an existing contract with another biofuel manufacturer. 

Next week United plans to announce a $30 million investment into Fulcrum BioEnergy - which uses materials such as paper, plastics, textiles, wood and more that is currently disposed of in landfill to make biofuel.

As part of the investment, United will also have the opportunity to purchase up to 90 million gallons of sustainable fuel from Fulcrum for a minimum of 10 years. Fulcrum's first alternative fuels plant is expected to begin commercial operation in 2017, according to KMBZ.

United's Executive Vice President and General Counsel Brett Hart said in a statement that "alternative fuels is an emerging industry that is vital to the future of aviation." The investment, he says, "is just one of our intiiatives to help make these fuels saleable and scalable."

"Investing in alternative fuels is not only good for the environment," Hart continued, "it's a smart move for our company as biofuels have the potential to hedge against future oil price volatility and carbon regulations."

United’s deal is the airline’s second major push toward alternative fuels. In 2013, the airline agreed to buy 15 million gallons of biofuels over three years from a California-based producer called AltAir Fuels, which makes biofuels out of nonedible natural oils and agricultural waste, according to The New York Times.

For the first two weeks, four to five flights a day will carry a fuel mixture that is 30 percent biofuel and 70 percent traditional jet fuel then, the fuel will be blended into the overall supply. The flight will have very little differences for passengers, but for the airlines and the biofuels industry, the flight will represent a long-awaited milestone: the first time a domestic airline operates regular passenger flights using an alternative jet fuel.

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

Vilsack announces $150M for drought relief in California

Posted July, 1 2015

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced another $150 million for California drought relief, according to a Western Farm Press article available here. Capital Press also published an article available here and San Francisco Chronicle here.

In the next two years, the USDA's Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) along with the Interior Department, the State of California, non-profits, and private landowners will invest $130 million in the partnership, totaling a minimum investment of $210 million.

The $150 million is in addition to the $110 million in drought relief for the West that officials announced on June 12 and the $190 million the federal government had already devoted to drought relief earlier this year. This investment includes $130 million for forest thinning and other projects in the woods and $13.7 million for struggling ranchers, according to Capital Press.

The money for livestock producers is available through NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program and includes short-term assistance as well as help with long-term solutions such as improving irrigation systems, Vilsack said.

“I think producers want to know that someone’s paying attention and understands the hurt that’s being felt throughout the countryside” because of the drought, said Vilsack. “I think they appreciate the fact that we know the link between our forests and water quality and conservation.”

The headwaters help provide drinking water to 25 million Californians and irrigate farms in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, according to the SF Chronicle.

Vilsack told reporters on a conference call that protecting national forests are key to preserving water resources. Expanding meadows and cutting down trees helps clear the path for snow to melt into streams and rivers, eventually making its way into farmland and reservoirs. Restoration can also ensure enough space for snow to stay on trees and meadows to also melt slowly into groundwater basins.

Approximately $14 million will help ranchers get water for cattle providing access to more water-efficient wells and pipelines, and $6 million for programs helping rural communities gain access to drinking water.

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

Sixteen states sue the EPA

Posted June 30, 2014

Sixteen states have filed lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), contesting a rule that expands the definition of bodies of water subject to federal pollution controls, according to a Reuters article available here. Feedstuffs also published an article available here and Brownfield Ag News here.

The actions are a coordinated challenge to an EPA rule issued on May 27 that defines the jurisdiction of the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over rivers, streams, lakes or marshes, which was meant to clarify the waters protected by the anti-pollution provisions of the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA).

There are two lawsuits, one was filed in the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota and the other in Texas. The states joining the lawsuit are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming, according to Feedstuffs.

In the lawsuit, the states contend the new definition of "Waters of the United States" violates provisions of the CWA, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the United States Constitution. Missouri attorney general Chris Koster said that without such a ruling, the law would take effect 60 days after the rule was published.   

The states assert that the EPA's rule wrongly broadens federal authority by placing a majority of water and land resources management in the hands of the federal government.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who joined the suit, says the official definition by EPA “extends the agencies’ regulation far beyond what a reasonable person considers to be a waterway,” according to Brownfield Ag News,

Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst says he’s pleased Missouri’s and other Attorney’s General have taken this action, ”Which is a pretty good indication of how upset people are about the rule. There is a great deal of hope out in farm country that he’ll be successful with this court case.”

Congress and the courts have repeatedly affirmed the states have primary responsibility for the protection of intrastate waters and land management, according to Koster. In the lawsuit, the states argue that the burdens created by the new EPA requirements on waters and lands are harmful to the states and will negatively affect farmers, developers and landowners, according to Feedstuffs.

The new EPA rule would extend federal jurisdiction over tributaries that may be natural, man-altered or man-made, including canals and ditches, said the complaint filed in Texas, according to Reuters.

The rule fails to account for duration of water flow, suggesting federal agencies can assert jurisdiction over “dry ponds, ephemeral streams, intermittent channels and even ditches,” the Texas lawsuit stated.

One case is State of Texas v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in U.S. Southern District of Texas, No. 15-cv-162. The other is North Dakota v. U.S. EPA, No. 15-59 in Federal District of North Dakota.

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

Lawmakers introduce revised federal drought relief bill

Posted June 29, 2015

California lawmakers passed a new budget that would make a range of policy changes intended to address the drought, according to an article by the LA Times available here. Daily Democrat also published an article available here and AgWeb here.

The changes would allow faster construction of water recycling projects, increase fines for water wasters and empower the state to force failing water agencies to consolidate.

The bill by Republican Congressman David Valadao of Hanford comes closer to what Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein pushed through the Senate last year, but there are also considerable differences. For example, the House bill scraps efforts to restore a Chinook salmon fishery in the San Joaquin River, which was the goal of a 2006 lawsuit settlement, according to AgWeb.

Valadao said Congress needs to act because the consequences of California's drought are spreading.

"Inaction will result in the collapse of our domestic food supply," he said.

The California Farm Bureau Federation voiced its support for water legislation—the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015, according to Daily Democrat.

“There’s no time to waste,” CFBF President Paul Wenger said in a press release. “The noose is tightening around many California farms and ranches, as water supplies become more restricted. All Californians and all Americans depend on the food and farm products grown in our state, and will benefit from policies that add flexibility to California water management.”

The bill requires agencies to consider alternatives to reduced pumping, such as installing temporary barriers to prevent saltwater intrusion or removing non-native fish that eat protected fish such as the delta smelt and certain salmon species.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California criticized the House bill, according to AgWeb.

"It's unfortunate that House Republicans — with much fanfare — are rolling out a bill that is the same-old, same-old and will only reignite the water wars," Boxer said.

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