Food

Baker with flour on hands
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, January 27th, 2023

The world loves a good baker.  If you’re one of those good bakers and you want to sell your baked goods, do you need a license?  Maybe. Our newly revised law bulletin, “The Home Bakery Registration Law in Ohio,” explains when a license or “registration” is necessary for selling home baked goods in Ohio.

Whether you need to register for a Home Bakery license depends on the type of baked good you’ll produce. Certain foods are at lower risk of a food safety concern when produced at home, which we refer to as “non-potentially hazardous” foods.  Those foods might fall under the Ohio Cottage Food Law, which does not require a license or registration for those who want to produce and sell foods that are on the cottage foods list. When a home baked good does pose higher food safety risks, however, the home bakery law applies to that food and additional practices are necessary to reduce food safety.  The producer who wants to sell that type of home baked good must register as a “Home Bakery" with the Ohio Department of Agriculture to help ensure that food safety practices are in place.

Which home-baked foods fall into which category?  This chart illustrates the differences between non-potentially hazardous “cottage" foods and potentially hazardous “home bakery” foods. If a food falls into the “potentially hazardous” category, the producer needs to apply for a Home Bakery license. 

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What’s required for the Home Bakery registration?  Our law bulletin explains the registration and inspection process and labeling requirements.  Read more about those parts of the Home Bakery Registration Law in our bulletin, available on the Farm Office Food Law Library at https://farmoffice.osu.edu/our-library/food-law.

Christmas ornament of Ohio capitol hanging on tree
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, December 20th, 2022

A new law giving local governments zoning authority over small-scale solar facilities may feel like a gift to counties and townships dealing with solar development conflicts.  The late amendment was one of a few surprises from the legislature as it wrapped up its lame duck session last week. 

Several other pieces of legislation affecting agriculture and natural resources that passed include local preemption of pesticides, loosening oil and gas drilling reviews on state lands, and new knowledge requirements for environmental health specialists that inspect retail food establishments. Here’s a summary of the agricultural related bills that now await the Governor’s action.

Zoning authority over small scale solar -- H.B. 501

An amendment to a township bill will grant counties, townships, and municipalities regulatory authority overthe location, erection, construction, reconstruction, change, alteration, maintenance, removal, use, or enlargement of any small solar facility, whether publicly or privately owned, or the use of land for that purpose.” The bill defines a “small solar facility” as one that has a single interconnection point to the grid and is under 50 MW. That number is important, because it addresses solar facilities that were not subject to S.B. 52, passed last year, which gave counties and townships new authority over wind and solar facilities that are over 50 MW. 

Agriculture – H.B. 507

This bill began as a simple provision reducing the number of poultry chicks that can be sold in lots from six to three.  Before it passed, however, the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee added six amendments, including these:

  • Local preemption of pesticides

Prohibits a political subdivision from regulating or banning the packaging, registration, labeling, sale, storage, distribution, use, or application of a pesticide registered with ODA on private property.

  • Environmental health specialists and food safety regulations

Requires ODA and ODH to adopt new rules for evaluating Environmental Health Specialists’ knowledge of food safety laws and to include the evaluations when assessing a board of health’s ability to license retail food establishments and food service operations.  Also revises several food safety laws to align them with state and federal laws.

  • Green energy in competitive retail energy laws

Defines “green energy” to be any energy that releases reduced air pollutants and cumulative air emissions or is more sustainable and reliable relative to some fossil fuels or is generated using natural gas, but excludes natural gas energy from renewable energy credits, except for gas from biologically derived methane.

  • Internet sales exemption from auction laws

Exempts from auctioneer and auction firm licensure requirements a person who, in any
calendar year, sells not more than $10,000 of personal property via an auction
mediation company (for example, eBay) if the company provides fraud protection to the buyer; and the property is the person’s own personal property, or the property is the personal property of another (sold without compensation).

  • Oil and gas drilling on state land

Requires a state agency to lease agency-owned oil and gas resources “in good faith” until new rules for nominating the development of resources are adopted by the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission.  The leasing party must demonstrate insurance and financial assurance and register with ODNR.

  • Towing authorizations for conservancy districts

 Authorizes a conservancy district police department to order the towing and storage of
a motor vehicle when the vehicle is an abandoned junk vehicle and when left on private or public property for a specified time.

Tax amnesty and appropriations – H.B. 66

H.B. 66 sets up the possibility of a tax amnesty program in 2023 and allocates $6 billion in one-time appropriations of COVID relief funds. And Medicaid draw down funds.

  • Tax amnesty

Allows a two-month tax amnesty program in 2023 for delinquent state taxes, local sales and use taxes, income tax withholding and more, but only if additional revenues from amnesty will be needed to meet General Revenue Fund obligations.

  • Ag-related appropriations

$4.5 million to Ohio Department of Agriculture for grants to county agricultural societies.

$250 million to Ohio Dept. of Development for water quality grants program.

Millions to Ohio Department of Natural Resources for state and local parks, and improvement, recreation, and conservation projects.

What proposals didn’t pass?

Since we’re at the end of the two-year session of the 134th General Assembly, any proposed legislation that did not pass is now dead.  Some of those proposals will be reintroduced next session, but we might never see others again.  The two most notable ag-related bills that died include:

Many solar developers were hoping this bill would pass, as it provides incentives for smaller scale subscription-based solar projects and solar projects on brownfield sites.  Landowners considering leases with solar developers who stated they were doing community solar projects must note that, because the bill did not pass, there is currently no legal authority to construct a community solar project in Ohio.

This proposal would have streamlined the process for landowners challenging compensation for property taken by eminent domain, increased the burden of proof by an agency using eminent domain, and expanded attorney fee and expense rewards for property owners.  It would also prohibit takings of property for recreational trails, an issue that has plagued northeast Ohio.  Sponsors say they will reintroduce next session.

What packages will the new year bring?

We’ll be keeping an eye on the new General Assembly, which will likely include new committee members and leadership on both the House Agriculture and Conservation and Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.  Our quick wish list for next session starts with:

  • Revisions to the agricultural and agritourism exemptions in county and township zoning law.
  • Mowing date and procedural revisions to the noxious weeds law
  • Updates and clarifications to the partition fence law
  • Streamlining and clarification of home-based and farm-raised food licenses

Follow the Ohio legislature at https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/.

 

Posted In: Food, Renewable Energy, Zoning
Tags: legislation
Comments: 0
Starting a Food Business title with background of a baker, steak on a fork, granola
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, November 29th, 2022

Direct food marketing in Ohio is hot. The latest USDA survey identified 7,107 Ohio farms with direct food sales--third highest in the nation.  That might be why our program receives more legal inquiries about food sales than any other area of law.  And that is also why we’re hosting a three-part webinar series on “Starting a Food Business,” providing an introduction to what a producer needs to know about selling home-based and farm-raised foods directly to consumers and retailers.

The free webinar series will be from 7—9 p.m. on January 24, February 28, and March 28 in 2023, with these different topics each night:

  • January 24:  Start-Up Basics.  What do you want to sell?  We’ll review initial considerations for selling your food product.  We’ll cover food safety, licensing, legal, and economic considerations for starting up a food business.
  • February 28:  Selling Home-Based Foods.  Learn about food product development, Ohio’s Cottage Food and Home Bakery laws, and requirements for selling canned foods.
  • March 28:  Selling Meat and Poultry.  A look at the economics, processing options, and labeling and licensing requirements for selling meat and poultry.

Our teaching team for the webinar series includes:

  • Nicole Arnold, Asst. Professor and Food Safety Field Specialist for OSU Extension.  Nicole supports food handlers, consumers, and educators with food safety education and risk communication efforts.
  • Peggy Kirk Hall, Assoc. Professor and Agricultural Law Field Specialist for OSU Extension.  Peggy directs OSU Extension’s Agricultural & Resource Law Program and regularly teaches and writes on food laws.
  • Emily Marrison, OSU Extension Educator in Family and Consumer Sciences.  Emily’s food science background provides expertise and insight on food safety, product development, and selling home-based foods.
  • Garth Ruff, Beef Cattle Field Specialist for OSU Extension.  Garth has a background in animal science and specializes in livestock production and marketing, farm management, and meat science.

The webinar series is free, but registration is necessary.  Find details and the registration link at go.osu.edu/foodbusiness. 

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!! 

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