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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!
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 a 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!!
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.
I recall sharing my concern with a professor when I was in law school: how will I ever know all the answers to legal questions? No worries, he said. You can’t know the answer to every legal question, but you do need to know how to find the answers. I think of that advice often as legal questions come across my desk.
We’ve had a steady stream of them this summer, and the questions provide a snapshot of what’s going on around the state. Here’s a sampling of questions we’ve received recently, complete with our answers—some we knew and some we had to find.
What do you know about the $500 million to be set aside at USDA for meat processors—who will administer it and what is the timeline? USDA published a notice on July 16, 2021 titled “Investments and Opportunities for Meat and Poultry Processing Infrastructure” seeking input on how to allocate the funds. The notice solicits comments on how to address challenges and increase competition in meat and poultry processing through the $500 million in infrastructure and other investments. USDA is looking at current programs, combinations of programs, and potential programs that can leverage the funds to expand and diversify meat and poultry processing capacity and make the supply chain more resilient. A review of the questions USDA raised in the notice gives a good indication of the types of programs we might see, and administration of the programs could be at both the federal and state levels. The comments are due by August 30, 2021 and USDA will review them before moving forward. It will be at least several months before decisions are made and the funds are available.
If I enroll my land in the Wetlands Reserve Program, does the land still qualify for Current Agricultural Use Valuation tax treatment? Yes. Ohio’s CAUV law allows eligible land to be assessed as agricultural land for property taxation under the CAUV formula. Eligible land is “land devoted exclusively to agricultural use.” The definition of that term is important, and the relevant section that places wetlands and other conservation practices within that definition is ORC 5713.30(A)(1(c), which states that "land devoted exclusively to agricultural use" include tracts, lots, or parcels of land with at least ten acres which “were devoted to and qualified for payments or other compensation under a land retirement or conservation program under an agreement with an agency of the federal government.” According to court cases in Ohio, wetlands enrolled in federal conservation programs fit within this term and should qualify for CAUV treatment, even wetlands used as a mitigation bank. An Ohio Attorney General opinion disagrees that a wetlands mitigation bank is a government conservation program, but that is an advisory rather than binding opinion and a mitigation bank is not the same as the federal Wetlands Reserve Program.
Are there any special requirements for a cottage food producer for selling “gluten free” or “vegan” products? Yes. You need to ensure that you meet federal regulations to use “gluten free” terminology on your cottage food label. There isn’t a label review and approval process for using the language, though, as it’s “self-policing.” You must be sure that your product does not include any gluten containing ingredients. And because low levels of gluten could result from cross contamination in your kitchen, your product must be below the tolerance level of 20 ppm of gluten. There isn’t a testing requirement to prove that you’re under 20 ppm before you sell it, but if for some reason someone challenged your product or ODA randomly sampled it, it must meet the 20 ppm standard. You can have your food lab tested if you want to have that assurance. Otherwise, you should carefully manage your kitchen to reduce cross contamination. The FDA provides the gluten free labeling rule on its website and has a helpful FAQ page also. FDA has said it will be updating the gluten free rule, but I haven’t seen anything new yet.
Vegan labeling is a lesser regulatory concern. If you use that or related terms like “animal free” on your product, federal law requires that you be “truthful and not misleading” to the consumer. There isn’t a federal or state definition of “vegan” to help with that determination, but the agencies explain the term basically as not containing any animal products. Your ingredient list should confirm any vegan or animal free claims on the product.
Are there regulations pertaining to online sales of perennial plants? Yes. The seller must obtain a nursery license from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The type of license will depend on their type of sales. A phytosanitary certificate might also be required by the importing states where their sales will take place; ODA also handles those certificates. Additionally, the seller will need to obtain a vendor’s license from the Department of Taxation to collect and submit sales tax on the plant sales.
Does a “Scenic River” designation by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources allow the agency to take my property that’s along the river? No. The language in the Scenic Rivers statute is misleading, as it states that “the area shall include lands adjacent to the watercourse in sufficient width to preserve, protect, and develop the natural character of the watercourse, but shall not include any lands more than one thousand feet from the normal waterlines of the watercourse unless an additional width is necessary to preserve water conservation, scenic, fish, wildlife, historic, or outdoor recreation values.” Without reading the entire statute, it does sound as though ODNR could be laying some type of claim to up to 1,000 feet of the lands adjacent to the river. However, further along in the statute is this language that prohibits the agency from having any authority over the private land: “Declaration by the director that an area is a wild, scenic, or recreational river area does not authorize the director or any governmental agency or political subdivision to restrict the use of land by the owner thereof or any person acting under the landowner's authority or to enter upon the land and does not expand or abridge the regulatory authority of any governmental agency or political subdivision over the area.” The designation is a declaration, and not a land claim, transfer of rights, or a taking. Additionally, my further research indicates that ODNR has never used eminent domain to take private property along a scenic river, nor does it have funding allocated from the legislature to purchase scenic river lands.
Do I need a license to make and sell egg noodles from the farm? Yes. Egg noodles don’t fall under Ohio’s Cottage Food Law, which allows you to make and sell certain low-risk “cottage foods” with little regulation or licensing requirements. Instead, producing egg noodles for sale from a home kitchen requires a home bakery registration. You obtain the registration from the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Division. It requires that you submit a request for inspection form, pass an inspection of the home, and submit a $10 fee. The inspection will confirm that walls, ceilings and floors are clean, easily cleanable and in good repair; the kitchen does not have carpeted floors; there are no pets or pests in the home; the kitchen, equipment and utensils are maintained in a sanitary condition; the kitchen has a mechanical refrigerator capable of maintaining 45 degrees and equipped with a thermometer; if the home has a private well, proof of a well test completed within the past year showing a negative test result for coliform bacteria; the food label meets labeling requirements.
Is raising and training dogs considered “animal husbandry” for purposes of d the agricultural exemption from township zoning authority? Yes. The Ohio Supreme Court held in Harris v. Rootstown Twp. that “the raising and care of dogs constitutes animal husbandry and is included in the term “agriculture” within the meaning of R.C. 519.01.” This means that the agricultural exemption in Ohio Revised Code 519.21 applies to raising and caring for dogs, and township zoning can’t prohibit the use of any lot over five acres for those purposes. The township would have limited regulatory authority over dog raising on smaller lots in some situations, though. There is often confusion among townships over how to classify dogs, and that may be because they differ from what we typically think of as “farm animals.” But the Rootstown Twp. case, along with many other appellate level cases in Ohio, confirm that dogs are to be treated the same as “livestock” for purposes of the agricultural exemption from zoning.
Can both landowners be assessed half the cost of removal of noxious weeds that are growing in a partition fence? Maybe. The Ohio line fence law does allow a township to step in and clear the fence row of noxious weeds, brush, briers and similar vegetation if a complaint is filed by one landowner against an adjacent landowner who refuses to clear the weeds. The costs for doing so are assessed back on the refusing landowner whose fence row was cleared. If the noxious weeds arise from both sides of the fence, are growing in the fence, and must be cleared from both sides of the fence, the township trustees would have the authority to assess the costs of removal back on both landowners. I’ve never heard of that happening, but it’s certainly one of those “be careful what you wish for” situations.
The final day of April is already here! Spring feels like it has finally arrived and planting season is in motion across Ohio. Just like farmers in the field, legislatures, government bodies, and courts across the country are hard at work addressing critical agricultural and resource law issues. We've gathered a collection of those issues for this Ag Law Harvest.
Debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers is in the works. The USDA has announced its plans for implementing debt relief to socially disadvantaged producers mandated by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that Congress passed in March. The payments will be 120% of any outstanding Farm Service Agency Direct and Guaranteed Farm Loans and Farm Storage Facility Loans held by a socially disadvantaged farmer on January 1, 2021. The additional 20% on top of the loan balance is for tax liabilities associated with the payment, as it will be considered income. For purposes of this debt relief program, a “socially disadvantaged producer” is one who is Black or African American, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Hispanic or Latino, Asian American or Pacific Islander. A producer must indicate the identification on the Customer Data Worksheet, USDA Form AD-2047, filed with the FSA. Producers who fit into the socially disadvantaged producer definition can update those forms now with the local FSA office. No other action by a producer who is eligible for the debt relief is necessary, as the FSA will notify producers of the payoff process as it occurs. For more information, visit this webpage for the USDA’s American Rescue Plan Debt Payments.
Missouri’s Truth in Labeling Law. In 2018, Missouri enacted a law making it a criminal offense to “misrepresent a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.” Violators could potentially face up to one year in prison and/or a fine up to $2,000.00. Shortly after the law went into effect, Turtle Island Foods Inc., a business that makes Tofurky (an alternative meat product) and advocacy groups such as the Animal Legal Defense Fund (collectively the “Plaintiffs”), filed a lawsuit challenging Missouri’s law on the grounds that the law violated the U.S. Constitution including the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Dormant Commerce Clause. The district court denied Plaintiffs’ request for an injunction determining that Missouri’s law only prohibits companies from misleading consumers. Plaintiffs then appealed to the federal circuit court. Last month the Eighth Circuit Court issued its opinion and agreed with the district court. However, the Eighth Circuit noted that the facts of this specific case did not support overturning Missouri’s law, but that facts and circumstances of another case may provide otherwise. As it stands, Missouri’s law remains in full force and effect.
Renewable Fuel Standard deadlines extended. The EPA issued its final rule extending deadlines for obligated parties to comply with Renewable Fuel Standard deadlines for 2019 and 2020. Under the extension, small refineries must submit 2019 compliance forms by November 30, 2021, and their associated attest engagement forms by June 1, 2022. For 2020, obligated parties must submit their compliance documents by January 31, 2022, and their associated attest engagement reports by June 1, 2022. Lastly, the EPA extended the deadline for obligated parties to submit attest engagement reports for 2021 to September 1, 2022, the deadline for 2021 compliance documents remains unchanged.
Ohio man sentenced for stealing grain. How often do you hear of farmers being victims of theft and a criminal on the run? Well, last month an Ohio man was sentenced to one year in prison and 5 years of probation after stealing over $94,000.00 in harvested grain. The defendant took his employer’s gravity wagon full of grain and sold it to a local co-op in Ashland County under false pretenses. After the theft was discovered, the defendant fled from Ohio, eventually having to be extradited from New Mexico. This case demonstrates just how vulnerable farmers are to potential crimes. For more information on intentional harm to farm property and your rights, check out our law bulletin.
Iowa passes agricultural trespass law. Iowa lawmakers have recently passed a new law that will make certain types of trespass on Iowa farms a criminal offense in an effort to stop animal activists and others from secretly documenting activities. House File 775 makes it illegal to take soil or water samples and samples of an animal’s bodily fluids or other byproducts. Additionally, the law makes it a crime to place or use a camera on the farm property without the owner’s consent. Proponents of the law argue that such laws are necessary to protect private property rights and prevent bioterrorism. Opponents of the bill are expected to challenge the law on First Amendment grounds.
USDA discussing current issues surrounding shipping U.S. agricultural exports. USDA had a meeting with the U.S. Department of Transportation and agricultural stakeholders to discuss the challenges of exporting U.S. agricultural products. Challenges arose in the fall of 2020 and have only continued to get worse. With the resurgence of international trade, nearly every sector of the supply chain has been under stress, including warehousing, trucking, rail service, container availability, and vessel service. Farmers have long struggled with finding a market for their products and getting a fair price for their work. With worldwide markets opening back up, the USDA and the Department of Transportation are hard at work trying to ensure that U.S. farm products reach consumers across the globe.
Farmers to Families Food Box program to end May 31, 2021. As part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program announced in April 2020, the Farmers to Families Food Box program was designed and implemented as a temporary relief effort to purchase produce, dairy, and meat products from American farmers and distribute these products in family-sized boxes to Americans in need. In a letter to stakeholders, the USDA announced that due to the improving economy and the access food insecure Americans have to expanded federal nutritional programs like SNAP, WIC, P-EBT, and more, the need for the Farmers to Families Food Box program no longer exists. The USDA also stated that the lessons learned from the Farmers to Food Box program will continue to be implemented in current and future programs. The USDA has already begun to offer a fresh produce box on a temporary basis through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and is in the process of designing a Dairy Donation Program to facilitate the timely donation of dairy products to nonprofit organizations that distribute food to persons in need and to help prevent and minimize food waste.
Grant program to enhance the waters of Lake Erie. The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) has announced that the USDA has awarded ODA’s Division of Soil and Water Conservation a five-year, $8-million grant to help improve the water quality in Lake Erie. The program will reinforce Governor Mike Dewine’s H2Ohio initiative by assisting farmers in developing nutrient management plans and conservation practices. The grant will be available to farmers in Crawford, Erie, Huron, Marion, Ottawa, Richland, Sandusky, Seneca, Shelby, and Wyandot counties. Farmers can start applying for the program through their local soil & water district office later this summer.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags replacing the branding iron? Last year the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service proposed to approve a rule that would require using RFID eartags for use on cattle that move across state lines. While the rule has not yet been finalized, the proposed rule, which is supposed to take effect January 2023, has not been free of controversy. The USDA believes the use of a RFID tag will provide the cattle industry with the best protection against the rapid spread of animal diseases. Some farmers, on the other hand, feel they should be able to use currently approved methods to maintain their cattle. To fight for their right, the Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) has filed a lawsuit in a Wyoming Federal Court on behalf of some Wyoming cattle producers. R-CALF argues that the USDA has improperly used advisory committees to create new rules in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Essentially, R-CALF argues that neither the USDA nor its subcommittees followed correct procedure as required by federal law in order to create this proposed RFID rule. R-CALF seeks to prevent the USDA from using the recommendations obtained from the subcommittees in violation of federal law and in its place ask the court to require the USDA to revisit the RFID eartag issue with subcommittees that are compliant with federal law.
All farm employees are set to receive overtime pay in the state of Washington. Last November the Washington Supreme Court ruled that Washington’s exclusion of dairy workers from overtime pay was in violation of the state’s constitution. Since the Washington Supreme Court ruling, several class-action lawsuits were filed against Washington dairy farmers for unpaid overtime hours, threatening to wipe out the Washington dairy industry. Fearing the worst, Washington legislators worked diligently to pass Senate Bill 5172 ending the overtime exemption for all of agriculture and to make the transition for agricultural employers as smooth as possible. The prevents lawsuits for unpaid overtime from being filed after the Washington Supreme Court decision and to phase in overtime in the agriculture industry. Beginning in 2022, agricultural employees will be paid overtime for time worked over 55 hours in any one workweek and by 2024, employees shall be paid overtime for any time worked over 40 hours in any one workweek. Senate Bill 5172 awaits the Washington Governor's signature.
In Ohio and around the country, farmers are gearing up for a new planting season. Spring is (almost) here! Before we leave winter totally behind, we wanted to keep you up to date on some notable ag law news from the past few months.
Here’s a look at what’s going on in ag law across the country…
New law signed to ramp up ag protections at U.S. ports of entry. Last summer, a bill was introduced in the United States Senate by a bipartisan group of senators. The purpose of the bill was to give more resources to Customs and Border Control (CBP) to inspect food and other agricultural goods coming across the U.S. border. On March 3, 2020, the President signed the bill into law. The new law authorizes CBP to hire and train more agricultural specialists, technicians, and canine teams for inspections at ports of entry. The additional hires are meant to help efforts to prevent foreign animal diseases like African swine fever from entering the United States. You can read the law here.
The Renewable Fuel Standard gets a win. We reported on Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) issues last fall, and it seems as though the battles between biofuel producers and oil refineries have spilled over into 2020. For a refresher, the RFS program “requires a certain volume of renewable fuel to replace the quantity of petroleum-based transportation fuel” and other fuels. Renewable fuels include biofuels made from crops like corn, soybeans, and sugarcane. In recent years, the demand for biofuels has dropped as the Trump administration waived required volumes for certain oil refiners. As a result, biofuels groups filed a lawsuit, asserting that EPA did not have the power to grant some of the waivers it gave to small oil refiners. On January 24, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit agreed with the biofuels groups. You can find the 99-page opinion here. If you’re not up for that bit of light reading, here’s the SparkNotes version: the court determined that EPA did not have the authority to grant three waivers to two small refineries in 2017. The court found that EPA “exceeded its statutory authority” because it extended exemptions that had never been given in the first place. To put it another way, the court asked how EPA could “extend” a waiver when the waiver had not been given in previous years. The Trump Administration is currently contemplating whether or not to appeal the decision.
Virginia General Assembly defines “milk.” To paraphrase Shakespeare, does “milk by another name taste as sweet?” Joining the company of a number of other states that have defined “milk” and “meat,” the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill on March 4, 2020 that defines milk as “the lacteal secretion, practically free of colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of a healthy hooved mammal.” The bill would make it illegal to label products as “milk” in Virginia unless they met the definition above. Essentially, products like almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, coconut milk, etc. would be misbranded if the labels represent the products as milk. Governor Ralph Northam has not yet signed or vetoed the bill. If he signs the bill, it would not become effective until six months after 11 of 14 southern states enact similar laws. The 11 states would also have to enact their laws before or on October 1, 2029 for Virginia’s law to take effect. The states are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. North Carolina has already passed a similar law.
And now, for ag law in our neck of the woods.
Purple paint bill reintroduced in Ohio. You may recall that the Ohio General Assembly has been toying with the idea of a purple paint law for the past several years. On March 4, 2020, Senator Bill Coley (R-Liberty Township) once again introduced a purple paint bill. What exactly does “purple paint” mean? If passed, the bill would allow landowners to put purple paint on trees and/or fence posts. The marks would have to be vertical lines at least eight inches long, between three and five feet from the base of the tree or post, readily visible, and placed at intervals of at most 25 yards. If the bill passed, such marks would be sufficient to inform those recklessly trespassing on private property that they are not authorized to be there. People who recklessly trespass on land with purple paint marks would be guilty of a fourth degree criminal misdemeanor. You can read the bill here.
Bill giving tax credits to beginning farmers considered. Senate Bill 159, titled “Grant tax credits to assist beginning farmers” had a hearing in the Senate Ways & Means Committee on March 3, 2020. The bill, introduced last year, seeks to provide tax incentives to beginning farmers who participate in an approved financial management program, as well as to businesses that sell or rent agricultural land, livestock, facilities, or equipment to beginning farmers. A nearly identical bill is being considered in the House, HB 183. Back in February, Governor Mike DeWine indicated he would sign such a bill if it passed the General Assembly. SB 159 is available here, and HB 183 is available here.
Are you perplexed by what “Sell By,” “Use By,” “Best If Used By,” and similar terms mean on your packaged foods? If the date has passed, should throw the food out, or take your chances with it? You are not alone in wondering about the meaning of dates and other terms printed on our food packages. Under most circumstances, food manufacturers are not required to include date labels and terms on packaged foods, so when they do include such labels, there are no official guidelines to follow. As a result, we have the current voluntary patchwork of various confusing terms. On May 23, 2019, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) took a step toward alleviating the uncertainty surrounding date labels. FDA released a letter addressed to the “Food Industry” at large. In the letter, FDA said that it “strongly supports” the use of the term “Best If Used By” when the “date is simply related to optimal quality—not safety.”
In its letter, FDA cites confusion over terms on date labels as a contributor to food waste in the United States. People don’t know what the dates mean, or they think the date means the food is expired or not safe to eat, and so they throw the food out. The range of different phrases on date labels only adds to the confusion. FDA says around 20% of food waste by consumers can be attributed to unclear date labels.
As was mentioned above, the food industry is largely on their own in terms of choosing what kind of date language to include on their packaged food labels. (One exception is infant formula, which FDA requires to have a date label reading “Use By.”) Consequently, many of the date labels on packaged foods are not indicative of when a food is safe to eat. Instead, FDA says that “quality dates indicate the food manufacturer’s estimate of how long a product will retain its best quality. If stored properly, a food product should be safe, wholesome, and of good quality after the quality date.” Therefore, FDA supports using “Best if Used By” as the standard to communicate to consumers when a packaged food product “will be at its best flavor and quality,” which does not necessarily mean that the food is unsafe to eat after that date.
Not a binding law or regulation
FDA’s recommendation for the food industry to use “Best if Used By” on packaged food when including a date label is just that: a recommendation. Food companies are not required to use the terminology on their packaged foods; with the exception of infant formula, no date label is required by federal law or regulation. However, FDA “strongly supports industry’s voluntary…efforts” to use “Best if Used By” to communicate food quality to consumers. Therefore, the letter to the Food Industry is not a mandate by FDA, but an endorsement and strong suggestion that the industry use “Best if Used By” to indicate food quality.
Will “Use By” be the next recommended standard?
In its letter, FDA touches on another recommendation by grocery and food associations, but declines to endorse it. Grocery and food groups advocate for the use of the term “Use By” on date labels on perishable foods that may be unsafe to eat after the printed date. While FDA is not currently recommending the use of “Use By,” it is important to note that industry groups support using the term in this way. Perhaps after further safety studies, “Use By” will be the next recommendation on the horizon for FDA.
What does FDA hope to accomplish with this recommendation?
While FDA is not requiring the food industry to use the “Best if Used By” date label, the purpose of its recommendation is to encourage the majority of the industry to adopt the language as a standard. The hope is, that as “Best if Used By” is more widely used and the public becomes more educated on its meaning, the amount of confusion, and accordingly, the amount of food waste, will greatly decrease. To learn more about FDA’s decision to endorse “Best if Used By,” see their article here. For more information about food product dating, see USDA’s page here.