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 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.

Lab Chimpanzees are Treated as "Slaves"

Posted May 28, 2015

A lawyer seeking to free two chimpanzees from a state university told a judge Wednesday that their confinement for research purposes is akin to slavery, the involuntary detention of people with mental illnesses and imprisonment, according to Midland Daily News. Daily Mail also published an article available here and Daily News here.

Steven Wise, an attorney with the Nonhuman Rights Project, told Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe in a nearly two-hour hearing that Hercules and Leo are "autonomous and self-determining beings" who should be granted a writ of habeas corpus and be moved from Stony Brook University on Long Island to a sanctuary in Florida.

"They're essentially in solitary confinement," Wise told the judge before a crowd of about 100 people packed into the Manhattan courthouse's ceremonial courtroom. "This is what we do to the worst human criminal."

Christopher Coulston, an assistant state attorney general representing the university, countered that chimpanzees are a different species from human beings, according to Daily News.

“The Great Writ(of habeus corpus)should be for human beings," he said.

He also accused Wise of “venue shopping” because they've lost similar bids in three other counties.

The judge reserved decision.

The 8-year-old chimps, who did not attend the hearing, are used for locomotion studies at Stony Brook, according to Daily Mail.

Coulston argued that the case was meritless on procedural grounds because the venue was improper and because granting the chimps personhood would create a slippery slope regarding the rights of other animals.

Two other cases are pending in state court.

Jaffe didn't make a ruling but thanked both sides for an 'extremely interesting and well argued' proceeding.

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

EPA Releases Final WOTUS Rule

Posted May 28, 2015

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army finalized the Clean Water Rule today to protect from pollution and degradation the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources, according to an EPA release available here. Politico also published an article available here and Farm Futures here.

The rule ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA) are more precisely defined and predictably determined, making permitting less costly, easier, and faster for businesses and industry. The rule does not create any new permitting requirements for agriculture and maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions.

“For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean too,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Protecting our water sources is a critical component of adapting to climate change impacts like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms, and warmer temperatures – which is why EPA and the Army have finalized the Clean Water Rule to protect these important waters, so we can strengthen our economy and provide certainty to American businesses.”

Opponents are already condemning it as a massive power grab by Washington, saying it will give bureaucrats the authority to penalize landowners every time a cow walks through a ditch. And it comes amid years of complaints from Republicans about President Barack Obama’s regulatory agenda, which has encompassed everything from power plants and health insurers to Internet providers and for-profit colleges, according to Politico.

Critics are already fighting back. The House voted earlier this month to block the rule. Opponents are also preparing lawsuits that will add to an already long trail of litigation over the government’s powers to regulate water, an issue the Supreme Court has taken up twice, with confusing results, since 2001.

At nearly 300 pages, the final rule still pledges to avoid regulation of most ditches, groundwater or require more permits for agriculture activities, according to Farm Futures.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) said based on EPA’s previous statements about the WOTUS proposal, the agency's assurances that farmer concerns have been addressed provides "little comfort."

"The process used to produce this rule was flawed," AFBF President Bob Stallman said in a press statement. "The EPA’s proposal transgressed clear legal boundaries set for it by Congress and the Courts and dealt more with regulating land use than protecting our nation’s valuable water resources."

EPA said it sets "physical and measurable" boundaries for CWA jurisdiction of waters near rivers and lakes as well as their tributaries. The rule also "limits protection to ditches that are constructed out of streams or function like streams and can carry pollution downstream," EPA said, "so ditches that are not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains are not covered."

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

Farmer Sues Pilgrim's Pride for Breach of Contract

Posted May 27, 2015

A West Virginian poultry farmer is suing Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. for breach of contract, according to MeatingPlace. West Virginia Record also published an article available here.

M&M Poultry Inc. filed a complaint May 8 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, claiming that Pilgrim’s Pride defrauded M&M by using a “tournament” ranking system that pit the plaintiff against follower growers and led to the unlawful termination of its contract. 

M&M owner David Mongold executed a production agreement with Pilgrim’s in June 2009, amending an agreement in January 2010 and “upon insistence of Pilgrim’s” executed another production agreement in February 2012. The company had operated six chicken houses, which could house almost 148,000 birds at peak capacity. 

M&M claims under the terms of the broiler production agreement, Pilgrim’s Pride agreed to deliver flocks of chicks to M&M’s facility, according to West Virginia Record.

M&M claims Pilgrim’s Pride defrauded the plaintiff by imposing and utilizing a tournament system that wrongfully placed M&M in competition with its fellow growers, while requiring M&M to accept chicks which were genetically different, chicks with varying degrees of healthiness and feed of dissimilar quantity and quality.

The defendant knowingly made and continues to make materially false representations about future income, costs, expenses, company policies and working relationships to M&M and its fellow growers, or concealed related material facts and information, according to the suit.

M&M claims the defendant violated the Federal Packers & Stockyards Act and breached its contract with the plaintiff.

M&M is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. It is being represented by Keith Lively of Doyle, Barlow & Mazard PLLC; and J. Dudley Butler of Butler Farm & Ranch Law Group.

For more information on the Packers and Stockyards Act, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website, here.

Walmart Announces Stricter Animal Welfare Policy

Posted May 27, 2015

Walmart has announced stricter guidelines concerning animal welfare and the use of antibiotics in farm animals, according to a Brownfield Ag News article available here. ABC News also published an article available here and USA Today here.

The new policy eliminates gestation stalls in pork production and battery cages in egg production. The guidelines also restrict antibiotics use to only when medically necessary, with oversight of a veterinarian, and eliminating the use of antibiotics to promote growth in animals.

Concerns are growing that antibiotic overuse is leading resistance to the drugs, making diseases more difficult to treat, according to ABC News.

Shoppers are also influencing changes by expression interest in where their food comes from and if it’s considered healthy or natural.

Walmart said its own research showed 77 percent of its shoppers said they will increase their trust and 66 percent will increase their likelihood to shop at a retailer that improves the treatment of livestock.

Mercy for Animals conducted several investigations from 2012-2014 at pork farms that supply Walmart, finding that pigs were abused and confined in gestation crates for long periods of time. The group applauded Walmart, but said it should make the guidelines mandatory, according to USA Today.

"We urge Walmart to add greater teeth to this announcement by making the new guidelines a requirement rather than a mere recommendation, and to set aggressive timelines for its suppliers to meet its expectations," MFA President Nathan Runkle said. "While there is still work to be done, Walmart's announcement is one of the most sweeping animal welfare policies ever adopted by a major food company."

Walmart did not give a specific timeline for the implementation of those policy changes.

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

FDA Receiving Backlash over Calorie Count Rule

Posted May 20, 2015

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is facing major blowback over a controversial ObamaCare rule that requires restaurants to list the number of calories in the foods they sell, according to The Hill article available here. Agri-Pulse also published an article available here.

The menu labeling requirements, set to take effect in December, are under attack from both sides of the aisle, setting up a showdown between Congress and the Obama administration. 

A group of 32 senators is demanding acting FDA Commissioner Stephen Ostroff delay the rules until after the 2016 presidential election, which could give the next president a chance to block the rule altogether.

FDA issued the labeling rule last November, but the agency has yet to issue guidance for complying with the requirements, the senators noted, according to Agri-Pulse.

“While we recognize the benefit of improved access to nutritional information for consumers, we are concerned that the lack of clear and consistent guidance from the agency will make it difficult, confusing, and burdensome for businesses, particularly smaller businesses, to implement the new requirements,” the senators wrote in a letter.

The labeling rule, which was a requirement of the 5-year-old Affordable Care Act, applies to companies with 20 or more locations, including supermarket delis.

Health advocates say consumers will benefit from the menu labeling requirements because they would have access to more information about the foods they eat, according to The Hill.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that a “delay is reasonable” but that “we’re anxious to get the calorie labeling to the public as soon as possible.”

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

WTO Rejects Cool Appeal, House Rejects COOL

Posted May 20, 2015

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has rejected a U.S. appeal of its decision that country-of-origin labeling (COOL) on meat unfairly discriminates against meat imports, according to a Food Safety News article available here. Feedstuffs also published an article available here and The Packer here.

The latest U.S. labeling rules require meat sold in grocery stores to indicate the country, or countries, where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered.

According to a WTO report, the labeling rules unfairly discriminate against meat imports and give the advantage to domestic meat products. But the WTO compliance panel also found that the labels do provide U.S. consumers with information on the origin of their food, countering Canada and Mexico’s assertion that the labels do not serve their intended purpose.

Canadian cattle groups urged Canada to seek immediate permission from the WTO to impose billions in retaliatory tariffs on a wide variety of U.S. exports to Canada, according to The Packer.

Produce industry leaders said specialty crop exports to Canada and Mexico could be at risk if Mexico puts in place retaliatory tariffs, but there is no indication that mandatory COOL regulations for fresh fruits and vegetables will change.

A joint statement from Ed Fast, minister of international trade, and Gerry Ritz, minister of agriculture and agri-food, jointly with Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, Mexico’s secretary of economy, and Enrique Martínez y Martínez, Mexico’s secretary of agriculture, called on the United States to repeal the COOL legislation, according to Feedstuffs.

“In light of the WTO’s final decision, and due to the fact that this discriminatory measure remains in place, our governments will be seeking authorization from the WTO to take retaliatory measures against U.S. exports,” the statement added. In a separate statement Fast and Ritz said in June 2013 Canada released a proposed list of targeted U.S. imports for retaliatory tariffs and they are now preparing its request to retaliate.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson also believes there’s still a future for COOL on meat, according to Food Safety News.

“As we have seen in other disputes, once decisions are handed down, WTO members often work together to find a solution that will work for them,” he said. “In this case, such a solution must involve continuation of a meaningful country-of-origin labeling requirement.”

Update:  The House Agriculture Committee approved H.R. 2393, a bill that would repeal mandatory country of origin labeling requirements (COOL) for beef, pork, and chicken, while leaving intact the requirements for all other covered commodities, according to a Meating Place article available here.
The bill, which amends the Agriculture Marketing Act of 1946, passed the committee by a vote of 38 to 6. A combination of 68 Democrats and Republicans joined Chairman Michael Conaway (R-Texas) in introducing this bipartisan bill.

“We must do all we can to avoid retaliation by Canada and Mexico, and this bill accomplishes that through full repeal of labeling requirements for beef, pork, and chicken,” said Conaway in a statement. “We will continue working to get this to the House floor as quickly as possible to ensure our economy and a vast range of U.S. industries and the men and women who work for them do not suffer any economic implications of retaliation.”

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