Food

Vintage cowgirl on a horse with a lasso
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Monday, June 06th, 2022

It's time for another roundup of legal questions we've been receiving in the Agricultural & Resource Law Program.  Our sampling this month includes registering a business, starting a butchery, noxious weed liability in a farm lease situation, promoting local craft beer at a farmers market, herd share agreements, and agritourism's exemption from zoning.  Read on to hear the answers to these questions from across the state.

I want to name my farm business but am not an LLC or corporation.  Do I have to register the name I want to use for the business?

Yes, if your business name won’t be your personal name and even if the business is not a formally organized entity such as an LLC.  You must register the business with the Ohio Secretary of State.  First, make sure the name you want to use is not already registered by another business.  Check the name availability using the Secretary of State’s business name search tool at https://businesssearch.ohiosos.gov/.  If the name is available, register the name with the Secretary of State using the form at https://www.sos.state.oh.us/businesses/filing-forms--fee-schedule/#name.  If there is already a business registered with the name you want to use, you might be able to register a similar name if your proposed name is “distinguishable” from the registered name. The Secretary of State reviews names to make sure they are not already registered and are distinguishable from similar names.  See the Guide to Name Availability page for examples of when names are or are not distinguishable from one another.

I am interested in starting a small butchery.  What resources and information are helpful for beginning this endeavor?

There are legal issues associated with beginning a meat processing operation, and there are also feasibility issues to first consider.  A good resource for initial considerations to make for starting a meat processing business is this toolkit from OSU at https://meatsci.osu.edu/programs/meat-processing-business-toolkit.   A similar resource that targets niche meat marketers is at https://www.nichemeatprocessing.org/get-started/.  On the legal side, requirements vary depending on whether you will only process meat as a custom operator or fully inspected operator, and if you also want to sell the meat through your own meat market.  The Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Division of Meat Inspection has licensing information for different types of processors here:  https://agri.ohio.gov/divisions/meat-inspection/home.  If you also want to have a retail meat market, you’ll need a retail food establishment (RFE) license from your local health department.  To help you with that process, it’s likely that your health department will have a food facility plan review resource like this one from the Putnam County Health Department.

Is Ohio’s noxious weeds law enforceable against the tenant operator of my farm, or just against me as the landowner?

Ohio’s noxious weed law states that the township trustees, upon receiving written information that noxious weeds are on land in their township, must notify the “owner, lessee, agent, or tenant having charge of the land.”  This language means that the trustees are to notify a tenant operator if the operator is the one who is in charge of the land where the noxious weeds exist.  The law then requires the notified party –which should be the tenant operator—to cut or destroy the noxious weeds within five days or show why there is no need to do so.  The concern with a rental situation like yours is that if the tenant does not destroy the weeds in five days, the law requires the township to hire someone to do so and assess the costs of removal as a lien on the land.  This puts you as the landowner at risk of financial responsibility for the lien and would require you to seek recourse against the tenant operator if you want to recover those costs.  Another option is to take care of removing the noxious weeds yourself, but that could possibly expose you to a claim of crop damages from the tenant operator.  A written farm lease can address this situation by clearing shifting the responsibility for noxious weeds in the crop to the tenant operator and stating how to deal with crop damages if the landowner must step in and destroy the noxious weeds.

Can we promote local craft beers at our farmers market?

Ohio established a new “F-11” permit in H.B. 674 last year.  The F-11 is a temporary permit that allows a qualifying non-profit organization to organize and conduct an event that introduces, showcases, or promotes Ohio craft beers that are sold at the event. There are restrictions on how long the event can last, how much beer can be sold, who can participate in the event, and requirements that food must also be sold at the event. The permit is $60 per day for up to 3 days.  Learn more about the permit on the Department of Commerce website at  https://com.ohio.gov/divisions-and-programs/liquor-control/new-permit-info/guides-and-resources/permit-class-types.

Can a goat herdsman legally provide goat milk through a herd share agreement program? 

Herd share agreements raise the raw milk controversy and whether it’s legal or safe to sell or consume raw milk.  Ohio statutory law does clearly prohibit the sales of raw milk to an “ultimate consumer” in ORC 971.04, on the basis that raw milk poses a food safety risk to consumers.  But the law does not prohibit animal owners from consuming raw milk from their own animals.  A herd share agreement sells ownership in an animal, rather than selling the raw milk from the animal.  Under the agreement, a person who pays the producer for a share of ownership in the animal may take their share of milk from the animal.  The Ohio Department of Agriculture challenged the use of herd share agreements as illegal in the 2006 case of Schitmeyer v. ODA, but the court did not uphold the ODA’s attempt to revoke the license of the dairy that was using herd share agreements.  As a result, it appears that the herd share agreement approach for raw milk sales is currently legally acceptable.  But many still claim that raw milk consumption is risky because the lack of pasteurization can allow harmful bacteria to exist in the milk. 

Can the township prohibit me from having a farm animal petting zoo on my hay farm?

It depends whether you qualify for the “agritourism exemption” granted in Ohio law.  The agritourism exemption states that a county or township can’t use its zoning authority to prohibit “agritourism,” although it may have same zoning regulations that affect agritourism buildings, parking lots, and access to and from the property.  “Agritourism” is an agriculturally related entertainment, recreational, cultural, educational or historical activity that takes place on a working farm where a certain amount of commercial agricultural production is also taking place. If you have more than ten acres in commercial production, like growing and selling your alfalfa, or you have less than ten acres but averaged more than $2,500 in gross sales from your alfalfa, you qualify under the agritourism exemption and the township zoning authorities cannot prohibit you from having your petting zoo.  However, any zoning regulations the township has for ingress and egress on your property, buildings used primarily for your petting zoo, or necessary parking areas would apply to your petting zoo activity. If you don't qualify as "agritourism," the township zoning regulations could apply to the petting zoo activity, and you must determine whether a petting zoo is a permitted use according to your zoning district, which could depend upon whether or not you want to operate the petting zoo as a commercial business.

 

 

 

 

Picture of a black howler monkey.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, February 18th, 2022

Did you know that the loudest land animal is the howler monkey?  The howler monkey can produce sounds that reach 140 decibels.  For reference, that is about as loud as a jet engine at take-off, which can rupture your eardrums.  

Like the howler monkey, we are here to make some noise about recent agricultural and resource law updates from across the country.  This edition of the Ag Law Harvest brings you court cases dealing with zoning ordinances, food labeling issues, and even the criminal prosecution of a dairy farm.  We then look at a couple states proposing, or disposing, of legislation related to agriculture.  

A zoning ordinance has Michigan landowners hogtied.  The Michigan Supreme Court recently ruled that Michigan’s 6-year statute of limitations does not prevent a township from suing a landowner for alleged ongoing zoning violations, even if the start of landowner’s alleged wrongdoing occurred outside the statute of limitations period.  

Harvey and Ruth Ann Haney (“Defendants”) own property in a Michigan township that is zoned for commercial use.  Defendants began raising hogs on their property in 2006.  Defendants started with one hog and allegedly grew their herd to about 20 hogs in 2016.  In 2016, Fraser Township (“Plaintiff”) filed suit against Defendants seeking a permanent injunction to enforce its zoning ordinance and to prevent Defendants from raising hogs and other animals that would violate the zoning ordinance on their commercially zoned property.  Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and argued that Plaintiff’s claims were barred because of Michigan’s 6-year statute of limitations.  A statute of limitations is a law that prevents certain lawsuits from being filed against individuals after a certain amount of time has passed.  In Ohio, for example, if someone were to be injured in a car accident, they would only have 2 years to bring a personal injury claim against the person who caused the accident.  That’s because Ohio has passed a law that mandates most personal injury claims to be brought within 2 years of the date of injury.  

In the Michigan case, Defendants argued that because their first alleged wrongdoing occurred in 2006, Plaintiff could not file their lawsuit against the Defendants in 2016.  A trial court disagreed with Defendants and denied their motion to dismiss.  Defendants took the motion up to the Michigan Court of Appeals, and the Court of Appeals found that Plaintiff’s claim was barred because of the 6-year statute of limitations.  Plaintiff appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, which overturned the Court of Appeals’ decision and held that Plaintiff’s claim was not barred.  The Michigan Supreme Court reasoned that the presence of the hogs constitutes the alleged unlawful conduct of the Defendants, and that unlawful conduct occurred in 2006 and has occurred almost every day thereafter.  The court concluded that because Defendants unlawful conduct was ongoing after 2006, Plaintiff’s claims were not barred by the statute of limitations.  The case now goes back to the trial court to be tried on the merits of Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants. 

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  Family Dollar Stores, Inc. (“Family Dollar”) has found itself in a bit of nutty situation.  Plaintiff, Heather Rudy, has filed a class action lawsuit against Family Dollar, alleging that Family Dollar has misled her and other consumers by marketing its Eatz brand Smoked Almonds as “smoked.”  Plaintiff asserts that Family Dollar is being deceptive because its Smoked Almonds are not smoked over an open fire, but instead flavored with a natural smoke flavoring.  Plaintiff’s claims against Family Dollar include violating the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (“ICFA”); breaches of express warranty and implied warranty of merchantability; violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act; negligent misrepresentation; fraud; and unjust enrichment.  

Family Dollar filed an early motion to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiff has not stated a claim for which relief can be granted.  A federal district court in Illinois dismissed some of Plaintiff’s claims but ruled that some claims against Family Dollar should be allowed to continue.  Plaintiff’s claims for breaches of warranty, violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud were all dismissed by the court.  The court did decide that Plaintiff’s claims under ICFA unjust enrichment should stay.  The court reasoned that Plaintiff’s interpretation that Family Dollar’s almonds would be smoked over an open fire are not unreasonable.  Moreover, the court recognized that nothing on the front label of Family Dollar’s Smoked Almonds would suggest, to consumers, that the term “smoked” refers to a flavoring rather than the process by which the almonds are produced.  The court even pointed out that competitors’ products contain the word “flavored” on the front of similar “smoked” products.  Therefore, the court concluded that Plaintiff’s interpretation of Family Dollar’s Smoked Almonds was not irrational and her claims for violating the ICFA should continue into the discovery phase of litigation, and possibly to trial.  

Undercover investigation leads to criminal prosecution of Pennsylvania dairy farm.  A Pennsylvania Court of Appeals (“Court of Appeals”) recently decided on Animal Outlook’s (“AO”) appeal from a Pennsylvania trial court’s order dismissing AO’s petition to review the decision of the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office (“DA”) to not prosecute a Pennsylvania dairy farm (the “Dairy Farm”) for animal cruelty and neglect.  An undercover agent for AO held employment at the Dairy Farm and captured video of the condition and treatment of animals on the farm, which AO claims constitutes criminal activity under Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty laws.  

AO compiled a report containing evidence and expert reports documenting the Dairy Farm’s alleged animal cruelty and neglect.  AO submitted its report to the Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”) in 2019.  The PSP conducted its own investigation which lasted for over a year, and in March 2020, issued a press release indicating that the DA would not prosecute the Dairy Farm.  

In response, AO drafted private criminal complaints against the Dairy Farm and submitted those to the local Magisterial District Judge.  The local Magisterial Judge disapproved all of AO’s complaints and concluded that the complaints “lacked merit.”  AO then filed a petition in a Pennsylvania trial court to review the Magisterial Judge’s decision.  The trial court dismissed AO’s petition and concluded that the DA correctly determined “that there was not enough evidence, based upon the law, to initiate prosecution against any of the Defendants alleged in the private criminal complaints.”  AO appealed the trial court’s decision to the Court of Appeals which ended up reversing the trial court’s decision.    

The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court failed to view the presented evidence through a lens that is favorable to moving forward with prosecution and the trial court failed to consider all reasonable inferences that could be made on the evidence.  The Court of Appeals observed that the trial court made credibility determinations of the evidence by favoring the evidence gathered by PSP over the evidence presented by AO.  The Court of Appeals noted that a trial court’s duty is to determine “whether there was evidence proffered to satisfy each element of an offense, not to make credibility determinations and conduct fact-finding.” Additionally, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court did not do a complete review of all the evidence and favored the evidenced obtained by PSP over the evidence presented by AO.  The Court of Appeals determined that had the trial court reviewed all the evidence, it would have found that AO provided sufficient evidence to establish prima facie cases of neglect and animal cruelty, which would have provided the legal basis for the DA’s office to prosecute the claims.  

Lastly, the DA argued that no legal basis for prosecution exists because the Dairy Farm is protected by the normal agricultural operations exemption to Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty laws.  However, the Court of Appeals found that the conduct of the Dairy Farm, as alleged, would fall outside the normal agricultural operations exemption because AO’s report demonstrates that the Dairy Farm’s practices were not the dairy industry norm.    

Ultimately the Court of Appeals found that AO’s private criminal complaints did have merit and that the DA had enough evidence and a legal basis to prosecute AO's claims.  The Court of Appeals remanded the trial court’s decision and ordered that the DA to go ahead and prosecute the Dairy Farm on its alleged animal cruelty violations.  

Wyoming fails to pass legislation limiting what can be considered agricultural land.  The Wyoming House of Representatives struck down a recent piece of legislation looking to increase the threshold requirement to allow landowners the ability to classify their land as agricultural, have their land appraised at an agricultural value, and receive the lower tax rate for agricultural land.  Current Wyoming law classifies land as agricultural if: (1) the land is currently being used for an agricultural purpose; (2) the land is not part of a patted subdivision; and (3) the owner of the land derived annual gross revenue of $500 or more from the marketing of agricultural products, or if the land is leased, the lessee derived annual gross revenues of $1,000 or more from the marketing of agricultural products.  

Wyoming House Bill 23 sought to increase the threshold amount of gross revenues derived from the marketing of agricultural products to $5,000 for all producers.  The Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation and Wyoming Stock Growers associations supported the bill.  Proponents of the bill argued that the intent of agricultural land appraisals is to support commercial agriculture, not wealthy landowners taking advantage of Wyoming’s tax laws.  Opponents of the bill argued that House Bill 23 hurt small agricultural landowners and that the benefits of the bill did not outweigh the harms.  House Bill 23 died with a vote of 34-25, failing to reach the 2/3 approval for bills to advance.  

Oregon introduces legislation relating to overtime for agricultural workers.  Oregon House Bill 4002 proposes to require agricultural employers to pay all agricultural employees an overtime wage for time worked over 40-hours in a workweek.  House Bill 4002 does propose a gradual phase-in of the overtime pay requirements for agricultural employees.  For the years 2023 and 2024, agricultural employees would be entitled to overtime pay for any time worked over 55 hours in a workweek.  For 2025 and 2026, the overtime pay requirement kicks in after 48 hours.  Then in 2027, and beyond, agricultural employers would be required to pay an overtime pay rate to employees that work more than 40 hours in a workweek.   

Ants and aphids on a plant stem.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, February 04th, 2022

Did you know that ants are the only creatures besides humans that will farm other creatures?  It’s true.  Just like we raise cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens in order to obtain a food source, ants will do the same with other insects.  This is particularly true with aphids.  Ants will protect aphids from natural predators and shelter them during heavy rain showers in order to gain a constant supply of honeydew.

Like an ant, we have done some heavy lifting to bring you the latest agricultural and resource law updates.  We start with some federal cases that deal with the definition of navigable waters under the Clean Water Act, mislabeling honey products, and indigenous hunting rights.  We then finish with some state law developments from across the country that include Georgia’s right to farm law and California’s Proposition 12.  

Supreme Court to review navigable waters definition under the Clean Water Act.  The Supreme Court announced that it would hear the case of an Idaho couple who have been battling the federal government over plans to build their home.  Chantell and Mike Sackett (“Plaintiffs”) began construction on their new home near Priest Lake, Idaho but were halted by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”).  The EPA issued an administrative compliance order alleging that Plaintiffs’ construction violates the Clean Water Act.  The EPA claims that the lot, on which the Plaintiffs are constructing their new home, contains wetlands that qualify as federally regulated “navigable waters.”  Plaintiffs are asking the Court to revisit its 2006 opinion in Rapanos v. United States and help clarify how to determine when a wetland should be classified as “navigable waters.”  In Rapanos, the Court found that the Clean Water Act regulates only certain wetlands, those that are determined to be “navigable waters.”  However, two different tests were laid out in the Court’s opinions.  The Court issued a plurality opinion which stated that the government can only regulate wetlands that have a continuous surface water connection to other regulated waters.  A concurring opinion, authored by Justice Kennedy, put forth a more relaxed test that allows for regulation of wetlands that bear a “significant nexus” with traditional navigable waters.  Justice Kennedy’s test did not take into consideration whether there was any surface water connection between the wetland and the traditional navigable waters.  In the lower appellate court, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals used Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test to uphold the EPA’s authority to halt Plaintiffs’ construction.  Now, Plaintiffs hope the Supreme Court will adopt a clear rule that brings “fairness, consistency, and a respect for private property rights to the Clean Water Act’s administration.”  

SueBee sued for “bee”ing deceptive.  Sioux Honey Association Cooperative (“Defendant”) finds itself in a sticky situation after Jason Scholder (“Plaintiff”) brought a class action lawsuit against the honey maker for violating New York’s consumer protection laws by misrepresenting the company’s honey products marketed under the SueBee brand.  Plaintiff claims that the words “Pure” or “100% Pure” on the Defendant’s honey products are misleading and deceptive because the honey contains glyphosate.  Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the class action lawsuit and a federal district court in New York granted Defendant’s motion in part and denied it in part.  Defendant asked the court to find that its labels could not be misleading as a matter of law because any trace amounts of glyphosate in the honey is a result of the natural behavior of bees interacting with agriculture and not a result of Defendant’s production process.  However, the court declined to dismiss Plaintiff’s mislabeling claims.  The court concluded that a reasonable consumer might not actually understand that the terms “Pure” or “100% Pure” means that trace amounts of glyphosate could end up in honey from the bees’ foraging process.  The court also declined the Defendant’s request to dismiss Plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim because of the alleged misrepresentations of the honey.  However, the court did dismiss Plaintiff’s breach of express warranty claim and request for injunctive relief.  The court dismissed Plaintiff’s breach of express warranty claim because Plaintiff failed to notify Defendant of its alleged breach of warranty, as required by New York law.  Plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief was also dismissed because the court could not find any imminent threat of continued injury to Plaintiff since he has now learned that the honey contains trace amounts of glyphosate.  The court ordered the parties to proceed with discovery on Plaintiff’s remaining claims, keeping the case abuzz.

Indigenous Hunting Rights.  Recently, two members of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation (“Northwestern Band”) were cited for hunting on Idaho lands without tags issued by the state.  The Northwestern Band filed suit against the state of Idaho declaring that its members possessed hunting rights pursuant to the Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868 (the “1868 Treaty”).  The 1868 Treaty provided that the Shoshone Nation agreed to permanently settle on either Fort Hall Reservation, located in Southeastern Idaho, or Wind River Reservation, located in Western Wyoming.  By agreeing to settle on one of the two reservations, the Shoshone Nation was granted hunting rights on unoccupied lands of the United states.  However, the Northwestern Band ended up settling in Northern Utah and not on one of the two named reservations.  After considering the 1868 Treaty, the Federal District Court of Idaho dismissed Northwestern Band’s lawsuit.  The court held that the hunting rights contained in the 1868 Treaty were tied to the promise to live on one of the reservations, and that a tribe cannot receive those hunting rights without living on one of the appropriate reservations.  Thus, the court found that because the Northwestern Band settled in Northern Utah and not on one of the reservations, the hunting rights of the 1868 Treaty did not extend to the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.  

Tensions rise over Georgia’s Freedom to Farm Act.  A few days ago, Georgia lawmakers introduced legislation that seeks to further protect Georgia farmers from nusiance lawsuits.  House Bill 1150 (“HB 1150”) proposes to change current Georgia law to protect farmers and other agricultural operations from being sued for emitting smells, noises, and other activities that may be found offensive by neighboring landowners.  Georgia’s current law, which became effective in 1980, does provide some protection for Georgia farmers, but only from neighboring landowners that have moved near the farm or agricultural operation after the current law went into effect.  All neighboring landowners that lived near the farming operation prior to the current law going into effect have retained their right to sue.  HB 1150, on the other hand, will prevent these nuisance lawsuits by all neighboring landowners, as long as the farm or agricultural operation have been operating for a year or more.  Passing a right to farm law has proven to be difficult in Georgia.  In 2020, House Bill 545, also known as the “Right to Farm bill” failed to pass before the final day of the 2019-2020 legislative session. Private landowners, farmers, and their supporters, are divided on the issue and seek to protect their respective property rights. It doesn't look like HB 1150 will have the easiest of times in the Georgia legislature. 

Confining California's Proposition 12.  Meat processors and businesses that sell whole pork meat in California (collectively the “Petitioners”) have delayed the enforcement of California’s Proposition 12 (“Prop 12”), for now.  Prop 12 is California’s animal confinement law that has sent shockwaves across the nation as it pertains to raising and selling pork, eggs, and veal.  Last week, the Superior Court for Sacramento County granted Petitioners’ writ of mandate to delay the enforcement of Prop 12 on sales of whole pork meat.  Petitioners argue that Prop 12 cannot be enforced until California has implemented its final regulations on Prop 12.  To date, California has yet to implement those final regulations.  California, on the other hand, suggests that final regulations are not a precondition to enforcement of Prop 12 and the civil and criminal penalties that can be brought against any farmer or business that violates Prop 12.  The court disagreed.  The court found that the language of Prop 12, as voted on by California residents, explicitly states that California voters wanted regulations in place before the square-footage requirements of Prop 12 took effect.  Therefore, the court granted Petitioners’ writ of mandate to prevent the enforcement of Prop 12 until final regulations have been implemented.  The court’s writ will remain in effect until 180 days after final regulations go into effect.  This will allow producers and businesses to prepare themselves to comply with the final regulations.  Opponents of Prop 12 believe this is another reason why the Supreme Court of the United States should review California’s Proposition 12 for its constitutionality.  

Side profile of a Harpy Eagle.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, January 21st, 2022

Did you know there is a bird with talons larger than grizzly bear claws?  The Harpy Eagle’s back talons can reach lengths of 5 inches, which is larger than a grizzly bear’s claws which reach lengths of around 4 inches. Thankfully, the Harpy Eagle is not usually found in the United States, they are traditionally found in the rainforests of Central and South America.  

The variety and extent of the animal kingdom can be a good analogy when we talk about the scope and variability of agricultural and resource law.  “Ag law” isn’t in and of itself a core area of law, at least not an area of law taught in most law schools across the country.  Those core areas of law are traditionally contracts, constitutional, tort, property, and a few others.  But ag law includes most, if not all, of the core legal subjects.  This includes property law, tax law, tort law, international law, intellectual property law, environmental law, contracts, business, labor and employment, and others.  This week’s edition of the Ag Law Harvest shows you how diverse ag law really is.  We review some legislation moving in parts of the country that deal with tax law, property law, and administrative law.  We also review Federal regulations and court cases that address food law, trademark law, and antitrust law.  

Florida introduces legislation to protect farmers’ preferential tax benefits amid agritourism boom.  Florida’s legislature is hard at work to ensure the success of Florida’s agriculture and agritourism industries.   Recently, Florida’s legislature introduced Senate Bill 1186 and House Bill 717.  The purpose of both bills is to promote Florida’s agritourism industry and protect farmers when it comes to land classification, taxation, and regulation.  Both pieces of legislation look to: 

  • Eliminate duplicate regulatory authority over agritourism by preventing local government from enacting regulations that prohibit, restrict, or otherwise limit an agritourism activity from taking place on land classified as agricultural land. 
  • Prevent land from being classified “non-agricultural” simply because an agritourism activity takes places on the land, so long as the agritourism activity is taking place on a bona fide farm. 
  • Implement a hybrid property taxation scheme which allows the buildings and other structures used for agritourism activities to be assessed at just value and added to the agriculturally assessed value of the land.  

Both bills are currently making their way through their respective chamber’s committees and should be voted on soon.  

Michigan looking to pass legislation to reduce fines for family farmers that do not report accidental workplace deaths to the state.  The Michigan Senate recently passed a substitute for House Bill 4031, which is focused on reducing the fine incurred by family farms for not reporting the death of a family member within eight hours.  Under current Michigan law, a family farm must report any fatality to the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration within eight hours or face a fine of at least $5,000, which is exactly what happened to the Eisenmann family in 2019.  The Eisenmann family ran a family farm and was fined $12,000 after Keith Eisenmann fell to his death while repairing a barn roof.  The bill seeks to reduce the fine for families that are grieving the unexpected loss of a loved one.  Although a family farm will still be required to report the accidental work-related death of a loved one within eight hours, if a family fails to do so, the substitute bill drastically reduces the penalty.  The original bill passed Michigan’s House of Representatives late last year, but the substitute bill passed by the Michigan Senate clarifies the definition of family farm.  The substitute bill now goes back to the House of Representatives for approval.  

Bioengineered food standard now in effect.  January 1st marked the first day of compliance for the Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (the “Standard”).  The Standard requires food manufacturers, importers, and certain retailers to disclose to consumers that foods are or may be bioengineered.  The Standard defines bioengineered foods as “those that contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through certain lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature.”  The Agricultural Marketing Service has created a list of bioengineered foods to identify the crops or foods that are available in a bioengineered form.  For more information on the Bioengineered Food Disclosure Statement visit https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/be.

A bite into the cheesier side of trademark law.  Last month, a federal court in Virginia decided on a dispute between European and American cheesemakers.  The dispute arose over whether the term “Gruyere” should only be used to identify cheeses produced in the Gruyère region of France and Switzerland or whether the term can be used generically to describe a type of cheese, regardless of where the cheese is produced.  The Plaintiffs, two European business groups, filed an application with the United States Patent Trademark Office (“USPTO”) to register “Gruyere” as a certification mark under 15 U.S.C. § 1127 which would only allow cheesemakers to use the term “Gruyere” if the cheese came from the Gruyère region.  The U.S. Dairy Export Council and others (“Defendants”) filed an opposition to Plaintiffs’ application with the Trademark Trials and Appeals Board (“TTAB”).  The TTAB found the term “Gruyere” to be generic term used to describe a type of cheese, not a cheese’s origin.  Plaintiffs’ then filed suit in a federal court in Virginia.  The federal court held that the “Gruyere” term had become a generic term to describe a type of cheese and failed to find the term worthy of trademark protection.  The court reasoned that although the term “Gruyere” may have once been understood to indicate where a cheese came from, over time “Gruyere” became a generic term to describe a type of cheese.  The court noted the term “Gruyere” has become generic overtime because: (1) U.S. regulations allow the use of the term “Gruyere” regardless of where the cheese is produced, (2) there is widespread sale and import of Gruyere cheese that is produced outside the Gruyère region, and (3) “Gruyere” is commonly used in dictionaries, media communications, and cheese industry events to describe a type of cheese without regards to where the cheese is produced.  Plaintiffs have since appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which means we still have a gooey situation on our hands.  

USDA and Department of Justice announce commitment to protect farmers against unfair anticompetitive practices.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) each announced their shared commitment to enforcing federal competition laws that are aimed at protecting farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural producers from unfair, anticompetitive practices.  In continuing their commitment to enforcing such laws, the agencies released a statement of principles and commitments which include: 

  1. Farmers, ranchers, and other producers and growers deserve the benefits of free and fair competition.  The DOJ and USDA are therefore prioritizing matters impacting competition in agriculture. 
  2. The agencies will develop an accessible, confidential process for agricultural producers to submit complaints about potential violations of the antitrust laws and the Packers and Stockyards Act.  
  3. Increased cooperation between the agencies to enforce the laws that protect agricultural producers and to identify areas where Congress can help modernize rules and regulations.   

As we have seen over the past few months, the federal government is keen on preventing the consolidation of the agricultural industry in order promote fair and equal competition.  The announced commitments and principles demonstrate the government’s continued dedication to cracking down on unfair practices. 

A group of ferrets laying next to each other.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Thursday, December 30th, 2021

Did you know that a group of ferrets is called a business?  Ironically, we are in the business of ferreting out agricultural and resource law issues and providing you updates.  This edition of the Ag Law Harvest provides an update on recent court decisions from across the country that deal with the right to farm, food labeling, and conditional use permits for solar gardens. 

Right to Farm Act upheld in North Carolina.  Earlier this month, a three-judge panel on the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of North Carolina’s right to farm law.  In 1979, the North Carolina legislature enacted the Right to Farm Act (the “Act”).  In 2017 and 2018 the North Carolina legislature amended the Act by passing House Bill 467 and Senate Bill 711 (collectively referred to as “the Amendments”).  The Amendments sought to clarify and strengthen North Carolina’s right to farm law. The Plaintiffs argued that the Amendments violated North Carolina’s equivalent of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause and that the Act exceeded the scope of North Carolina’s police power.  The Court of Appeals disagreed.  The Court recognized North Carolina’s interest in promoting and preserving agriculture and that North Carolina has the authority to regulate such an interest. The Court found that the Act’s limitation on potential nuisance claims against those engaged in agriculture, forestry, and other related operations helps to protect North Carolina’s interest, and encourages North Carolina’s goal to encourage the availability and continued “production of food, fiber, and other products.”   The Plaintiffs also argued that the Amendments were “private laws” to specifically protect the swine industry in violation of North Carolina’s Constitution.  The Court found, however, that the Act and the Amendments are laws of general applicability that apply to all agricultural and forestry operations, not just swine producers.  Lastly, the Plaintiffs argued that because the language in House Bill 467 limited the amount of compensation that can be recovered in a nuisance action against agricultural and forestry operations, the Plaintiffs’ right to a trial by jury had been impaired and/or abolished.  The Court ruled, however, that North Carolina has the authority to “define the circumstances under which a remedy is legally cognizable and those under which it is not.”  The Court found that there are many examples where compensation and remedies are limited within North Carolina law and that House Bill 467 did not “impair nor abolish the right to a jury trial.” 

Where is the cacao?  A California man (“Plaintiff”) is suing Costco Wholesale Corporation (“Costco”) for allegedly mislabeling Costco’s “Chocolate Almond Dipped Vanilla Ice Cream Bars” (the “Product”).  Plaintiff argues that because of the Product’s packaging and name, he expected the Product’s chocolate would have been predominately derived from cacao beans.  Plaintiff asserts that chocolate is defined by the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) and California law “as prepared from ground roasted cacao bean” and that it must be “made chiefly from cacao beans with a small amount of optional ingredients.”  Based on this definition, Plaintiff claims that Costco’s packaging is misleading because the Product’s chocolate contains mostly vegetable oils and small amounts of ingredients derived from cacao beans.  In his Complaint, Plaintiff argues that federal regulations require Costco to label the Product as “milk chocolate and vegetable oil coating” rather than just “chocolate.”  However, the court found that neither of Plaintiff’s cited regulations support a viable theory of liability against Costco.  First, the court could not find Plaintiff’s definition of chocolate anywhere in the Code of Federal Regulations.  Secondly, the court held that there are no federal regulations that require a certain amount of cacao bean ingredients as opposed to vegetable oils to be used in “chocolate” and that there is no language mandating the labeling of Costco’s Product as “milk chocolate and vegetable oil coating almond dipped ice cream bars.” The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s claim that Costco engaged in consumer deception with its Product’s label.  The court found that a reasonable consumer would not have been deceived by the Product’s label and that if there were any questions about the ingredients of the Product, a consumer could have resolved those questions by looking for the ingredients list on the back of the Product’s packaging. 

Conditional use permits at the center of the Minnesota’s “solar system.”  Move over Sun because conditional use permits are at the center of attention in Minnesota, for now.  The Minnesota Court of Appeals has recently ruled against a county’s decision to deny two conditional use permits to build solar gardens in McLeod County, Minnesota.  Two subsidiary companies of Nokomis Energy LLC (“Plaintiff”) each applied for a conditional use permit (“CUP”) to build separate, one-megawatt solar energy facilities.  McLeod County considered the two CUP applications at public hearings.  Two neighboring landowners expressed concerns about stray voltage and the number of fetal deaths among their livestock.  The landowners claimed that the number of fetal deaths increased after other solar facilities were constructed nearby.  Plaintiff did not deny that solar gardens can produce stray voltage but proposed to alleviate those concerns by hiring only licensed professionals and to allow third-party oversight during construction.  Plaintiff also offered to conduct stray voltage testing before and after construction and indicated that it would accept any conditions set forth by county officials.  The county, however, denied both applications on the basis that the proposed sites are “prime farmland” and because the stray voltage would negatively affect livestock.  The court rejected the county’s assessment.  First, the court held that preserving prime farmland is not a sufficient legal basis for denying a CUP.  Second, the court ruled that the county cannot deny a CUP without first considering whether any proposed conditions would eliminate any concerns about the application.  Here, the court found that McLeod County’s failure to address Plaintiff’s proposals to eliminate the stray voltage concerns amounts to an unjust denial of Plaintiff’s CUPs.    

 

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year! 

Moose standing in snowy environment.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, December 10th, 2021

Did you know that a male moose loses its antlers every year? Moose usually lose their antlers every winter and grow new ones in the spring.  Additionally, because of the lack of antlers during the winter months, a moose’s first line of defense is its sharp hooves, which can mortally wound a wolf or bear.  This edition of the Ag Law Harvest kicks around a few USDA announcements and FDA rule proposals and sheds some light on overtime compensation for California’s agricultural workers.      

USDA announces new micro-farm insurance policy.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (“USDA”) Risk Management Agency (“RMA”) announced that the USDA has developed a new micro farm insurance policy for agricultural producers with small-scale farms who sell locally.  The new insurance policy seeks to simplify recordkeeping and introduces insurance coverage for post-production costs and value-added products.  Farm operations that earn an average allowable revenue of $100,000 or less, or for carryover insureds, that earn an average allowable revenue of $125,000 or less are eligible for the policy.  The new insurance policy will be available for the 2022 crop year.  Crop insurance is sold and delivered sole through private crop insurance agents, a list of which can be found at the RMA Agent Locator.

USDA accepting applications to help rural communities get access to internet.  The USDA announced that it has begun accepting applications for up to $1.15 billion in loans and grants to help rural communities gain access to high-speed internet.  The announcement follows the recently enacted infrastructure bill, which provides another $2 billion in additional funding for USDA’s ReConnect Program.  According to the USDA, the funding will be available for projects that serve rural areas where at least 90% of the households lack broadband service at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) (download) and 20 Mbps (upload).  The USDA will give funding priority to projects that will serve people in low-density rural areas and areas lacking internet service speeds of at least 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload).  In making the funding decisions, the USDA will consider the economic needs of the community to be served and the extent to which a provider will offer affordable service options to the community.  

FDA proposing changes to testing requirements of pre-harvest agricultural water.  The Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) published a proposed rule that would change some provisions of the FDA’s Produce Safety Rule.  The proposed rule seeks to replace the microbial criteria and testing requirements for pre-harvest agricultural water for covered produce other than sprouts.  Some of the proposed changes include: 

  • Replacing the microbial quality criteria and testing requirements with new provisions for conducting pre-harvest agricultural water assessments for hazard identification and risk management purposes; 
  • A new testing option for certain covered farms that elect to test their pre-harvest agricultural water for generic Escherichia coli (“E. coli”);
  • Providing additional flexibility in responding to findings from pre-harvest agricultural water assessments; 
  • Expedited implementation of mitigation measures for known or reasonably foreseeable hazards related to certain adjacent and nearby land uses; and 
  • Required management review of pre-harvest agricultural water assessments. 

The FDA is accepting comments on the proposed rule until April 5, 2022.  

California’s overtime compensation for agricultural workers. In 2016, California passed Assembly Bill No. 1066 that slowly implemented overtime wages for California’s agricultural workers.  Beginning in 2022, agricultural employees are entitled to one-half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over eight hours in any workday or over 40 hours in any workweek.  However, the law only affects agricultural employers with 26 or more employees.  Agricultural employers with 25 or fewer employees will be required to follow the same overtime compensation structure beginning in 2025.  California will also begin to require that any work performed by an agricultural employee in excess of 12 hours in any workday be paid twice their regular rate of pay.  Again, this provision only effects agricultural employers with 26 or more employees but will go into effect for all agricultural employers in 2025.  

 

Turkey looking straight into camera.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Wednesday, November 24th, 2021

Did you know that female turkeys can lay a fertilized egg without mating?  This process is called parthenogenesis, a type of asexual reproduction that can also occur in other types of animals including invertebrates, fish, and lizards.  In turkeys, this process always produces a male chick.  The likelihood of an embryo from parthenogenesis surviving to chick-hood is small, but possible.  

In this edition of the Ag Law Harvest and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we are thankful for the opportunity to present to you the newly proposed definition of “waters of the United States”, Kansas’s battle to protect agricultural facilities, and food labeling cases from across the country.  

EPA and Army Corps of Engineers propose rule to establish the definition of “waters of the United States.”  The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers announced proposed rule to return the definition of “waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) to the pre-2015 definition with a few updates to reflect Supreme Court decisions.  In 2020, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule went into effect and interpreted WOTUS to include: “(1) territorial seas and traditional navigable waters; (2) tributaries of such waters; (3) certain lakes, ponds, and impoundments of jurisdictional waters; and (4) wetlands adjacent to other jurisdictional waters (other than jurisdictional wetlands).”  On January 20, 2021, President Biden signed Executive Order 13990 directing all executive agencies to review and address any federal regulations that went into effect during the previous administration. After reviewing the Trump Administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule, the agencies determined that the rule is significantly reducing clean water protections.  The new rule proposed by the agencies seeks to interpret WOTUS to include: (1) traditional navigable waters; (2) interstate waters; (3) the territorial seas and their adjacent wetlands; (4) most impoundments of WOTUS; (5) tributaries to traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, the territorial seas, and impoundments, that meet either the relatively permanent standard of the significant nexus standard; (6) wetlands adjacent to impoundments and tributaries, that meet either the relatively permanent standard or the significant nexus standard; and (7) “other waters” that meet either the relatively permanent standard or the significant nexus standard.  The agencies will be taking comment on the proposed rule for 60 days once the rule is published in the Federal Register.  

Kansas Attorney General asks Supreme Court to review Kansas “Ag Gag” Law.  Derek Schmidt, Attorney General of Kansas, has asked the United States Supreme Court to review the Kansas Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act (the “Act”) which criminalizes the unauthorized access to agricultural facilities without consent of the owner of the facility with the intent to damage the business of the facility.  Under the Act, consent is not effective if it is “[i]nduced by force, fraud, deception, duress or threat.”  Earlier this year, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals found the Kansas law to be unconstitutional by violating the free speech clause in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and prohibited Kansas from enforcing the Act.  Now, Derek Schmidt has petitioned the Supreme Court to review the Kansas law arguing that the Act does not violate the First Amendment because the Act regulates conduct not speech.  The Attorney General goes on to argue that even if trespass by deception were to be considered a form of speech, it is a form of speech that is not protected by the First Amendment.  The Attorney General reasoned that the Act protects a private property owner’s right to exclude and that the First Amendment does not provide a license to violate a person’s property rights.   

Oklahoma’s meat labeling law on trial.  Earlier this month, the Plant Based Foods Association and the Tofurky Company (“Plaintiffs”) filed an amended complaint challenging Oklahoma’s Meat Consumer Protection Act (the “Act”) alleging that the Act violates the dormant commerce clause, the due process clause, and the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution.  Plaintiffs allege that the Oklahoma law “institutes a protectionist trade barrier” that is contrary to and preempted by federal law.  According to Plaintiffs, the Act “forbids plant-based meat producers from using meat terms unless they include a disclaimer on their product labels in the same type size and prominence to the ‘name of the product’ that their plant-based products are not actually meat derived from animals.”  Plaintiffs argue that the Oklahoma law would require plant-based meat producers to develop Oklahoma specific labels or abandon the Oklahoma market which is essentially interfering with interstate commerce and in violation of established federal law. This case is set for trial in 2022.  But, this is not the first time the Oklahoma law has been challenged on constitutional grounds.  Plant Based Foods Association and Upton’s Naturals Company also filed suit alleging the Oklahoma law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.  However, a Federal District Court in Oklahoma denied an injunction to prevent Oklahoma from enforcing the law.  The court found that the disclosure requirement in the Act is reasonably related to Oklahoma’s interest in preventing the confusion or deception of consumers.  The court reasoned that the commercial speech at issue could potentially be misleading to reasonable consumer.  The court argued that “the possibility of deception flowing from the use of meat-related terms for the plant-based products is self-evident from the natural inference a consumer would draw from the meat-related terms used.”  This not the end of the battle for the Oklahoma law, there will likely be appeals to higher courts to help settle the dispute. 

Pepperidge Farm sued over “Golden Butter” cracker label.  Hawa Kamara decided to file a lawsuit against Pepperidge Farm, Inc. after purchasing “Golden Butter” crackers at a local Target store in New York. According to the ingredients list attached to Kamara’s complaint, the crackers were made with butter but also included vegetable oils.  Kamara asserted that the presence of vegetable oils makes the “Golden Butter” packaging misleading and/or deceptive because a reasonable consumer would conclude the crackers were “all or predominantly made with butter.”  A Federal District Court in New York, however, did not find the packaging misleading or deceptive.  The court reasoned that “the packaging accurately indicated that the product contained butter, and the ingredients list confirmed that butter predominated over other oils and fats.”  Further, the court argued that a reasonable consumer could believe the “Golden Butter” labeling described the product’s flavor and not the ingredient proportions.  Ultimately, the court decided to dismiss the case against Pepperidge Farm because Kamara’s complaint did not plausibly allege that the “Golden Butter” packaging materially misrepresented the ingredients in the crackers.  

 

Thank you for reading and we hope that everyone has a happy and safe Thanksgiving!! 

Blue sturgeon swimming in river.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, November 12th, 2021

Did you know that white sturgeon are North America’s largest fish?  The largest white sturgeon on record was caught in 1898 and weighed approximately 1,500 pounds. Sturgeon is the common name for the species of fish that belong to the Acipenseridae family. The largest sturgeon on record was a Beluga sturgeon weighing in at 3,463 pounds and 24 feet long.  Talk about a river monster!  Swimming right along, this edition of the Ag Law Harvest brings you some intriguing election results from across the country, pandemic assistance for organic producers, and a lesson in signatures. 

Maine first state to have “right to food.”  Earlier this month, Maine voters passed the nation’s first “right to food” constitutional amendment.  The referendum asked voters if they favored an amendment to the Maine Constitution “to declare that all individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being.”  Supporters of the new amendment claim that the amendment will ensure the right of citizens to take back control of the food supply from large landowners and giant retailers.  Opponents claim that the new amendment is deceptively vague and is a threat to food safety and animal welfare by encouraging residents to try and raise their own products in their backyards without any knowledge or experience.  The scope and legality of Maine’s new constitutional amendment is surely to be tested and defined by the state’s courts, but until then, Maine citizens are the only ones the in the United States that can claim they have a constitutional right to food.  

New York voters approve constitutional environmental rights amendment.  New Yorkers voted on New York Proposal 2, also known as the “Environmental Rights Amendment.”  The proposal passed with overwhelming support.  The new amendment adds that “[e]ach person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment” to the New York constitution.  New York is one of a handful of states to have enacted a “green amendment” in its state constitution.  Proponents of the amendment argue that such an amendment is long overdue while opponents argue that the amendment is too ambiguous and will do New York more harm than good. 

USDA announces pandemic support for certified organic and transitioning operations.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) announced that it will be providing pandemic assistance to cover certification and education expenses to agricultural producers who are currently certified or to those seeking to become certified.  The USDA will make $20 million available through the Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program (“OTECP”) as part of the USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. OTECP funding is provided through the Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”).  Producers can apply for expenses paid during the 2020, 2021, and 2022 fiscal years.  For each fiscal year, OTECP will cover 25% of a certified operation’s eligible certification expenses, up to $250 per certification category.  Crop and livestock operations transitioning to organic production may be eligible for 75% of eligible expenses, up to $750 for each year.  Both certified organic operations and transitioning operations are eligible for 75% of eligible registration fees, up to $200, per year for educational events to help operations increase their knowledge of production and marketing practices.  Applications are now open and will be available until January 7, 2022.  Producers can apply through their local Farm Service Agency office.  For more information on OTECP visit https://www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance/otecp.    

A signature case.  In 2018 Margaret Byars died intestate survived by her 5 children.  After Byars’s death, one her sons, Keith, revealed that Margaret had allegedly executed a quitclaim deed in 2017 giving her Dayton home to Keith.  The other siblings brought this lawsuit claiming that the deed was invalid and unenforceable because the facts surrounding the execution of the deed seemed a little odd.  In 2017, Margaret was diagnosed with breast cancer and moved into a nursing facility.  Shortly after entering the nursing home, Sophia Johnson, a family friend and the notary on the deed, showed up to notarize the quitclaim deed.  Trial testimony revealed that the quitclaim deed was prepared and executed by a third party.  Margaret did not physically sign the deed herself.  In fact, the trial court noted that the signature looked like the handwriting of the person that prepared the deed and that no one saw Margaret authorize another to sign the deed for her.  Sophia testified that when she showed up to notarize the deed, the deed was already completed and signed.  Sophia also testified that Margaret seemed to intend to transfer the house to Keith and understood the nature and consequences of the deed.  After hearing all the testimony, the trial court concluded that the deed was enforceable, and the house belonged to Keith.  However, on appeal, the Second District Court of Appeals found the deed to be invalid.  The Second District stated that in Ohio a grantor need not actually sign a deed in order to be valid, however, the court concluded that the “signature requirement may be satisfied by another affixing a grantor’s signature on a deed so long as the evidence shows that the grantor comprehend the deed, wanted its execution, and authorized the other to sign it.”  The court concluded that the evidence showed that Margaret comprehended the deed and perhaps even wanted its execution.  But the evidence did not show that Margaret authorized anyone to sign the deed for her.  Because it could not be established that Margaret authorized the preparer or anyone else to sign the deed for her, the Second District court held that that deed was invalid under Ohio law.  This case demonstrates the importance of attorneys and the work they do to make sure all asset transfers and estate planning documents are in compliance with the law to help avoid unnecessary lawsuits and prevent any unintended outcomes.

Peregrine Falcon flying straight at camera.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, October 15th, 2021

Did you know that the fastest animal in the world is the Peregrine Falcon?  This speedy raptor has been clocked going 242 mph when diving.

Like the Peregrine Falcon, this week’s Ag Law Harvest dives into supply chain solutions, new laws to help reduce a state’s carbon footprint, and federal and state case law demonstrating how important it is to be clear when drafting legislation and/or documents, because any ounce of ambiguity could lead to a dispute.      

Reinforcing the links in the supply chain.  President Joe Biden announced that ports, dockworkers, railroads, trucking companies, labor unions, and retailers are all coming together and have agreed to do their part to help reduce the supply chain disruption that has left over 70 cargo ships floating out at sea with nowhere to go.  In his announcement, President Biden disclosed that the Port of Los Angeles, the largest shipping port in the United States, has committed to expanding its hours so that it can operate 24/7; labor unions have announced that its workers have agreed to work the additional hours; large companies like Walmart, UPS, FedEx, Samsung, Home Depot and Target have all agreed to expand their hours to help move product across the country.  According to the White House, this expanded effort will help deliver an extra 3,500 shipping containers per week.  Port and manufacturing disruptions have plagued retailers and consumers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Farming equipment and parts to repair farming equipment are increasingly in short supply.  The White House hopes that through these agreements, retailers and consumers can finally start to see some relief.  

California breaking up with gas powered lawn equipment.  California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a new bill into law that would phase out the use of gas-powered lawn equipment in California.  Assembly Bill 1346 requires that new small off-road engines (“SOREs”), used primarily in lawn and garden equipment, be zero-emission by 2024.  The California legislation seeks to regulate the emissions from SOREs which have not been as regulated as the emissions from other engines.  According to the legislation, “one hour of operation of a commercial leaf blower can emit as much [reactive organic gases] plus [oxides of nitrogen] as driving 1,100 miles in a new passenger vehicle.”  The new law requires the State Air Resources Board to adopt cost-effective and technologically feasible regulations to prohibit engine exhaust and emissions from new SOREs.  Assembly Bill 1346 is a piece of the puzzle to help California achieve zero-emissions from off-road equipment by 2035, as ordered by Governor Newsome in Executive Order N-79-20

U.S. Supreme Court asked to review E15 Vacatur.  A biofuel advocacy group, Growth Energy, filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a federal court’s decision to abolish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) rule allowing for the year-round sale of fuel blends containing gasoline and 15% ethanol (“E15”).  Growth Energy argues that the ethanol waiver under the Clean Air Act for the sale of ethanol blend gasoline applies to E15, the same as it does for gas that contains 10% ethanol (“E10”).  Growth Energy also claims that limiting the ethanol waiver to E10 gasolines contradicts Congress’s intent for enacting the ethanol waiver because E15 better achieves the economic and environmental goals that Congress had in mind when it drafted the ethanol waiver.  Growth Energy asks the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s decision and instead interpret the ethanol waiver as setting a floor, not a maximum, for fuel blends containing ethanol that can qualify for the ethanol waiver.  Growth Energy now awaits the Supreme Court’s decision on whether or not it will take up the case. Visit our recent blog post for more background information on E15 and the waivers at issue.  

When in doubt, trust the trust.  A farm family in Preble County may finally be able to find some closure after the 12th District Court of Appeals affirmed the Preble County Court of Common Pleas’ decision to prevent a co-trustee from selling farm property.  Dorothy Wisehart (“Dorothy”), the matriarch of the Wisehart family established the Dorothy R. Wisehart Trust (the “Trust”) in which she conveyed a one-half interest in two separate farm properties, both located within Preble County to the Trust.  Dorothy retained her one-half interest in the two farms which passed to her son, Arthur, upon her death.  Furthermore, upon Dorothy’s death, the Trust became an irrevocable trust with Arthur as the sole trustee.  The Trust had five income beneficiaries – Arthur’s wife and four kids.  The Trust specifically allowed for removal and replacement of the trustee upon the written request of 75% of the income beneficiaries.  In 2010, four of the five income beneficiaries executed a document removing Arthur as the sole trustee and instead placed Arthur and Dodson, Arthur’s son and one of the income beneficiaries, as co-trustees.  Arthur, however, argued that only Dorothy had the power to remove and appoint a new trustee and once Dorothy passed, no new trustee could be appointed.  In 2015, Dodson filed suit against his father after Arthur allegedly tried to sell the two farms and further alleged that Arthur breached his fiduciary duty by withholding funds from the Trust.  Dodson also asked the court to determine the issue of whether Dodson was validly appointed as co-trustee.  The common pleas court sided with Dodson and found that (1) the Trust held an undivided one-half interest in the farms, (2) Dodson was validly appointed as co-trustee, and (3) Arthur wrongfully withheld funds from the Trust, breaching his fiduciary duty as a trustee.  Arthur appealed, arguing that the case was not “justiciable” because the harms alleged by Dodson were hypothetical and no real harm occurred.  However, the 12th District Court of Appeals disagreed with Arthur.  The court found that the Trust expressly provided for the removal and appointment of trustees by 75% of the income beneficiaries.  Further, the court ruled that this case was justiciable because Dodson’s allegations needed to be resolved by the courts or else real harm would have occurred to the income beneficiaries of the Trust.  This case highlights perfectly the importance of having well drafted estate planning documents to help clear up any disputes that may arise once you’re gone.  

No need to cut the “GRAS” today.  Consumer advocates, Center for Food Safety (“CFS”) and Environmental Defense Fund (“EDF”), brought suit against the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) asking the court to overturn the FDA’s rule regarding “Substances Generally Recognized as Safe (the “GRAS Rule”).  According to the plaintiffs, the GRAS Rule subdelegated the FDA’s duty to ensure food safety in violation of the United States Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”).  In 1958, Congress enacted the Food Additives Amendment to the FDCA which mandates that any food additive must be approved by the FDA.  However, the definition of “food additive” does not include those substances that are generally recognized as safe.  Things like vinegar, vegetable oil, baking powder and many other spices and flavors are generally recognized as safe to use in food and not considered to be a food additive.  Under the GRAS Rule, anyone may voluntarily, but is not required to, notify the FDA of their view that a substance is a GRAS substance.  There are specific guidelines and information that must be presented to back up a manufacturer’s claim that a substance is GRAS.  In any case, the FDA retains the authority to issue warnings to manufacturers and to stop distribution when the FDA believes that a substance is not a GRAS substance.  Plaintiffs claim that under the GRAS Rule, the FDA is subdelegating its duty by allowing manufacturers to voluntarily notify the FDA of a GRAS substance rather than requiring it.  However, the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York found that the FDA did not subdelegate its duties because the FDCA does not require the FDA provide prior authorization that a substance is GRAS.  Further, the court held that the FDA has done nothing more than implement a process by which manufacturers can notify the FDA of GRAS determinations and the FDA can choose to agree or disagree.  The court reasoned that even if a mandatory GRAS notification procedure or prior approval process were in place, manufacturers could simply lie about what’s in their products and the FDA would be none the wiser.  The court also noted that mandatory submissions would consume the FDA’s resources which would be better spent evaluating higher priority substances.  The court ultimately concluded that the FDA’s GRAS Rule does not highlight a constitutional issue, nor does it violate the FDCA or APA.

Nile Crocodile with jaw open.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Tuesday, September 28th, 2021

Did you know that the Nile Crocodile has the strongest bite of any animal in the world?  The deadly jaws can apply 5,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, which is about 10 times more powerful than the crunch of the Great White Shark. Humans?  Well, they can apply about 100 pounds of pressure per square inch.  

This edition of the Ag Law Harvest takes a bite out of some federal lawsuits, Department of Labor developments, and USDA announcements affecting agriculture and the environment. 

Animal advocates lack standing to sue poultry producer.  In 2020, animal advocacy groups In Defense of Animals (“IDA”) and Friends of the Earth (“FoE”) (collectively the “Plaintiffs”) filed a lawsuit against Sanderson Farms (“Sanderson”), a Mississippi poultry producer, alleging that Sanderson engaged in false advertising as it relates to its chicken products.  According to Plaintiffs, Sanderson advertises that its chickens are “100% natural” with no “hidden ingredients.”  However, Plaintiffs allege that Sanderson has been misleading the public after many of Sanderson’s products tested positive for antibiotics and other unnatural substances.  This however is not the first court battle between FoE and Sanderson.  In 2017, FoE sued Sanderson for the same false advertising.  However, the 2017 case was dismissed because the court held that FoE did not have standing to bring the lawsuit.  The 2017 case was appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals where the decision to dismiss the lawsuit was upheld.  Fast forward to 2020, FoE joined forces with a new plaintiff, IDA, hoping to file a lawsuit that would finally stick.  Recently however, a federal district court in California dismissed the most recent lawsuit because FoE was precluded, or prohibited, from suing Sanderson again on the same claims and because IDA lacked the standing to bring the lawsuit.  The California district court found that FoE could not bring its claims against Sanderson because those same claims were litigated in the 2017 lawsuit.  This legal theory, known as issue preclusion, prevents the same plaintiff from a previous lawsuit from bringing the same claims against the same defendant in a new lawsuit, when those claims were resolved or disposed of in a prior lawsuit.  Issue preclusion did not affect IDA, however, because it was a new plaintiff.  But the California district court still found that IDA lacked standing to bring this lawsuit against Sanderson.  IDA argued that because it expended resources to launch a campaign against Sanderson to combat the allegedly false advertising, it had organizational standing to bring the lawsuit.  Standing requires a plaintiff to show they suffered an “injury-in-fact” before they can maintain a lawsuit.  Organizational standing is the theory that allows an organization like IDA to establish an “injury-in-fact” if it can demonstrate that: (1) defendant frustrated its organizational mission; and (2) it diverted resources to combat the defendant’s conduct.  IDA argued that because it diverted resources including writing letters to Sanderson and the Federal Trade Commission, filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, publishing articles and social media posts, and diverting staff time from other campaigns to focus on countering Sanderson’s advertising, it had the organizational standing to bring the lawsuit.  The Court disagreed.  The Court reasoned that the diverting of resources by IDA was totally voluntary and not a result of Sanderson’s advertising.  The Court determined that in order to obtain organizational standing, IDA must have been forced to take the actions it did as a result of Sanderson’s advertising, the diverting of resources cannot be self-inflicted.  The Court held that Sanderson’s advertising did not ultimately frustrate IDA’s organizational mission and that any diverting of resources to counter Sanderson’s advertising was the normal course of action taken by a group like IDA.  

Joshua trees, a threatened species?  WildEarth Guardians (“Plaintiff”), a conservation organization, brought suit against the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Defendants”) for failing to list the Joshua tree as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  Plaintiff argued that the Defendants’ decision not to list the Joshua tree as threatened was arbitrary, capricious, contrary to the best scientific and commercial data available, and otherwise not in line with the standards set forth by the ESA.  In 2015 Plaintiff filed a petition to have the Joshua tree listed as a threatened species after Plaintiff provided scientific studies showing that climate change posed a serious threat to the continued existence of the Joshua tree.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) issued a 90-day finding that Plaintiff’s petition presented credible information indicating that listing the Joshua tree as threatened may be warranted.  However, the FWS’s 12-month finding determined that listing the Joshua tree as threatened or endangered under the ESA was not necessary due to the Joshua tree’s long lifespan, wide range, and ability to occupy multiple various ecological settings.  That’s when Plaintiff decided to bring this lawsuit asking the federal district court in California to set aside the 12-month finding and order the Defendants to prepare a new finding, and the Court agreed.  The Court held that Defendants’ decision was arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to the ESA and ordered the Defendants to reconsider Plaintiff’s petition.  The Court reasoned that the FWS’s climate change conclusions were arbitrary and capricious because it failed to consider Plaintiff’s scientific data and failed to explain why in its 12-month finding.  Further, the Court noted that the FWS’s findings regarding threats to the Joshua tree posed by climate change and wildfire were unsupported, speculative, or irrational.  And finally, the Court determined that the FWS’s conclusion that Joshua trees are not threatened in a significant portion of their range was arbitrary and capricious.  The FWS must now prepare a new finding that addresses all the above deficiencies.  

Department of Labor announces expanded measures to protect workers from extreme heat.  The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) is working on ways to protect workers in hot environments and reduce the dangers associated with exposure to high heat.  According to the DOL, OSHA will be implementing an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards,  developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections, and launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard.  Current and future extreme heat initiatives and rules apply to indoor and outdoor worksites in general industry, construction, agriculture and maritime where potential heat-related hazards exist. 

Deadline to apply for pandemic assistance to livestock producers extended.  The USDA announced that it is providing additional time for livestock and poultry producers to apply for the Pandemic Livestock Indemnity Program (“PLIP”).  Producers who suffered losses during the Covid-19 pandemic due to insufficient access to processing may now apply for relief for those losses through October 12, 2021.  Payments are based on 80% of the fair market value of the livestock and poultry and for the cost of depopulation and disposal of the animals.  Eligible livestock include swine, chickens, and turkeys.  For more information on PLIP, and how to apply, visit farmers.gov/plip.

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