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.

USDA to Spend $4 Million on Honey Bee Habitat

Posted October 31, 2014

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that more than $4 million will be provided to help Midwest farmers and ranchers improve the health of honey bees, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) press release available here. The Huffington Post also published an article here, Capital Press here, and The Hill here.

"The future of America's food supply depends on honey bees, and this effort is one way USDA is helping improve the health of honey bee populations. Significant progress has been made in understanding the factors that are associated with Colony Collapse Disorder and the overall health of honey bees, and this funding will allow us to work with farmers and ranchers to apply that knowledge over a broader area," said Vilsack.

Bees are a crucial role in food production and pollinate approximately $15 billion worth of crops. Recently, their numbers have been declining partially due to colony collapse disorder, according to Huffington Post.

The total number of U.S. bee colonies has dropped from 5 million in the 1940s to 2.5 million today, according to The Hill.

Eligible farmers and ranchers will be able to provide “diverse and safe food resources” to bees. A USDA branch will focus on the effort in Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Senator John Hoeven said that the government is also providing $8 million in similar incentives through the Conservation Reserve Program, according to Capital Press.

Funding will be provided to producers through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and applications are accepted until Friday, November 21, according to the release.

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

HSUS Launches Farm Animal Reward Hotline

Posted October 28, 2014

The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) has launched a hotline to report cruelty and neglect, according to a HSUS release available here. Feedstuffs also published an article available here.

The hotline will be a “whistleblower reward program” to report abuse on factory farms, at livestock auctions and in slaughter houses will empower employees at those facilities who have witnessed cruelty or other unlawful acts.

The HSUS offers a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who have committed cruelty acts to farm animals.

HSUS will work with the United Farm Workers to inform workers at farms, slaughterhouses, and livestock auctions of the hotline
--> (1-888-209-7177), according to Feedstuffs.

“The hotline was launched after agribusiness interests and their legislative allies made it virtually impossible to document cruelty on factory farms in a handful of states. Those states have passed “ag gag” bills, which criminalize undercover investigations of agricultural facilities.”

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

Law Center to Host GMO Labeling Webinar

Posted October 27, 2014

The Agricultural & Food Law Consortium will host the Mandatory GMO Labeling Laws: Overview and Status of Current Legal Issues webinar from 2:30 to 3:30 (EST) on Wednesday, November 19.

Within the past decade, ballot initiatives and legislative proposals addressing the labeling of “Genetically Modified Organisms,” commonly known as “GMOs,” have been proposed in several states across the country, as well as on the federal level.

Shortly before it begins, click here and sign in as a guest using your full name. Before viewing the webinar, please visit this link to confirm your ability to connect to the server.

Harrison Pittman, director of the National Agricultural Law Center, will serve as the moderator, and Ross Pifer, director of the Agricultural Law Resource Reference Center at Penn State Law, will be the presenter.

The Agricultural & Food Law Consortium is a first-of-its-kind multi-institutional collaboration designed to enhance and expand the development and delivery of authoritative, timely, and objective agricultural and food law research and information.

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

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

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.