Here’s our gathering of recent agricultural law news you may want to know:
Ohio court upholds conservation easement restriction. In a battle over the future of a property subject to a conservation easement, the Twelfth District Court of Appeals has determined that the easement’s restriction on subdivision of the 76-acre property is valid. The easement requires that the property be retained forever in its natural and agricultural state and prohibits any subdivision of the property. The lower court determined that the subdivision is an invalid and unreasonable restraint on alienation because it does not contain a reasonable temporal limitation, but the Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that the property could still be sold and that the prohibition on subdividing the property was consistent with the purpose of the conservation easement. See Taylor v. Taylor here.
First decision is out in North Carolina nuisance lawsuits. On April 26, 2018, a federal jury found that Murphy-Brown LLC created a nuisance for neighbors living near Kinlaw Farms in North Carolina, where Murphy-Brown raises up 14,688 hogs. A subsidiary of Smithfield, the largest producer of pork in the world, owns Murphy-Brown LLC. Neighbors of Kinley Farms brought the lawsuit in 2014, asserting that the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), with its open air lagoon, spraying of manure on nearby fields, and truck traffic, created “odor, annoyance, dust, noise and loss of use and enjoyment” of their properties. The neighbors also claimed that boxes of deceased hogs and hog waste on the farm attracted buzzards, insects and vermin. The jury found that Murphy-Brown substantially and unreasonably interfered with each of the ten plaintiffs’ use and enjoyment of their property and as a result, awarded each plaintiff $75,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. Since the initial jury decision, the amount of punitive damages awarded to each plaintiff has been diminished to $250,000 due to a state law limiting such awards in North Carolina. Smithfield/Murphy-Brown LLC plans to appeal the decision. Similar lawsuits brought by neighbors against hog operations in eastern North Carolina will be heard in the near future. Several questions remain to be answered; one is whether Smithfield will be successful in their appeal. Another question is whether this case and the other lawsuits will inspire similar lawsuits against large livestock operations in other states.
Monsanto loses challenge of California glyphosate listing. A California Court of Appeals has held that the state may list glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup product, as a probable carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65, which requires the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to list all chemical agents with a known association to cancer. OEHHA based its listing on a 2015 report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which stated that glyphosate was a "probable" human carcinogen. Proposition 65 allows OEHHA to use an IARC finding for listing determinations, but Monsanto argued that such reliance represented an unconstitutional delegation of authority to a foreign agency. The court disagreed, ruling that OEHHA acted appropriately by relying on the IARC conclusion that glyphosate is a possible carcinogen. Monsanto Company v. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment et al, F075362, 231 Cal.Rptr.3d 537 (Cal. Ct. App. April 19, 2018) is here.
National GMO Standard proposed. On May 4, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) released the administrative rule it proposes to meet the 2016 Congressional mandate to develop a National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. The rule would require that genetically modified or “bioengineered” food be labeled as such. According to the AMS, “[t]he proposed rule is intended to provide a mandatory uniform national standard for disclosure of information to consumers about the [bioengineered] status of foods.” The AMS is asking for interested parties to submit their comments about the proposed rule by July 3, 2018.
Industrial hemp bill on the move. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's federal legislation to allow states to regulate industrial hemp is gaining traction. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture is supporting the bill and encouraging Congress to “provide an opportunity toward full commercialization of this new crop opportunity for farmers.”
More on Arkansas dicamba ban. In Arkansas, where the fight over the use of dicamba has raged for the past few years, the state Supreme Court has overruled several lower court judges’ rulings that certain farmers be exempted from the statewide ban on applying the volatile herbicide. The Arkansas State Plant Board has banned the use of dicamba in the state from April 16 through October 31 of this year.
Written by Ellen Essman, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program
Last summer, federal legislation requiring a National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (“the Standard”) was signed into law by President Obama. The law requires the establishment of standard for labeling foods that contain bioengineered substances such as GMOs (genetically modified organisms). It was meant to preempt state GMO labeling laws and instead create a standard that would be applicable nationwide. This summer, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is moving a step closer toward implementing the law. To this end, AMS released a list on June 28, 2017 of thirty questions for parties interested in the Standard, such as food producers, retailers and manufacturers. The answers will be taken into consideration when USDA begins writing its agency rules to fully implement the Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard.
Many of the questions concern how certain terms, such as “very small” and “small” packages, “very small” and “small” food manufacturers should be defined under the law. Similarly, the agency asks what terms should be considered synonymous with “bioengineering.” AMS also presents technical questions, such as what kinds of breeding techniques should be thought of as conventional, what genetic modifications should be seen as natural, and what amounts of bioengineered substance in a food should require a disclosure and a number of questions relating to how bioengineering should be disclosed on food products and their packages. Finally, AMS asks quite a few questions involving compliance with the Standard, such as what types of records should be maintained by regulated parties and how AMS will go about investigating noncompliance.
The full list of questions, including an explanation of each, is available here. Producers, retailers, manufacturers, biotechnology companies, consumers and others interested in the rule are encouraged to submit their answers and feedback to GMOlabeling@ams.usda.gov by July 17, 2017.
For more information on the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard legislation, see our previous blog post from July 2016 here.
After several years of debate over voluntary versus mandatory GMO (genetically modified organism) labeling, Congress passed legislation yesterday to create a unified national standard requiring disclosure of information for bioengineered foods. Predictions are that President Obama will sign the legislation soon. Once effective, the new law will preempt state laws that require labeling of foods containing GMOs, such as the Vermont labeling law that recently became effective on July 1. The bill's passage through Congress represented a bi-partisan compromise led by senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). "This is the most important food and agriculture policy debate of the last 20 years," said Sen. Roberts.
What’s in the bill?
The legislation amends the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to include the following:
Definition of “bioengineered” food, which is food intended for human consumption that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant DNA techniques and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.
- The Secretary of Agriculture shall determine the amount of bioengineered substance necessary to deem the food as bioengineered.
- A food that is derived from an animal that consumed feed containing bioengineered substances shall not be considered bioengineered. Thus, meat, poultry, dairy and eggs from animals that have consumed GMO feed will not be subject to the labeling requirements because they cannot be defined as bioengineered.
- Preemption of state food labeling standards. No state or political subdivision may establish requirements for labeling whether a food or seed is bioengineered or contains ingredients that are bioengineered. A food may bear disclosure of bioengineering only in accordance with federal regulations arising from this law.
- Creation of federal mandatory disclosure standard. Within two years of the bill’s enactment, the Secretary of Agriculture must establish a mandatory national bioengineered food disclosure standard and the procedures necessary to implement the national standard.
Choice of labeling. The federal standard must give a manufacturer the option of disclosing information with on-package text, a symbol or an electronic or digital link, such as a QR code. An electronic or digital link must contain access to an internet website or other type of electronic source.
- The USDA must conduct a study to identify potential technological challenges of disclosure through electronic or digital means, and must provide additional options if determined that the proposed technological options do not provide sufficient access to bioengineered food disclosure information.
- The USDA must also develop alternative disclosure options for foods contained in small packages.
Exclusions. The following are excluded from the national disclosure standard:
- Food served in a restaurant or similar retail food establishment.
- “Very small” food manufacturers, to be defined through rulemaking.
- As explained above, meat, poultry, dairy and eggs from animals that consume GMO feed.
- A food containing meat, poultry or eggs if the predominant ingredient would not independently be subject to the standard of if the predominant ingredient is broth, stock, water or a similar solution and the second-most predominant ingredient would not independently be subject to the national standard.
- “Small” food manufacturers. The USDA must define “small food manufacturers” and provide such manufacturers with a grace period of at least one year for implementation of the new standards and the additional option of providing only a telephone number or internet website on a food label to disclose required information.
- Food safety implications. The FDA conducts a pre-market consultation process for foods from genetically engineered plants; foods that successfully complete the process shall not be treated as more or less safe than non-genetically engineered counterparts because of bioengineering.
- Organically produced foods. A food certified as “organic” under the national organic program may be labelled as “not bioengineered,” “non-GMO” or with similar language.
- Enforcement. Failing to disclose a food as bioengineered is a prohibited act, but the rulemaking process will determine whether there will be penalties for noncompliance. The USDA Secretary will have authority to request records and conduct audits and hearings in regards to compliance but will not have recall authority for a food that does not comply with disclosure regulations.
The preemption established in the new law will be effective immediately and the State of Vermont is prohibited from enforcing its GMO labeling law. The USDA, through its Agricultural Marketing Service, will begin the rulemaking process for the national disclosure standard. A few key issues for agriculture to track though out the rulemaking stage will be the determination of "how much" bioengineered substance is sufficient to deem a food as bioengineered; defining the "very small" food manufacturers that will be exempt from the standard and the "small" manufacturers that will have a grace period and simpler disclosure requirements, whether QR codes and other technology options will remain viable due to expected objections that they discriminate against lower income consumers; and penalties for noncompliance. The two year window for rulemaking, however, leaves open the opportunity for future changes such as amending the legislation or prohibiting funding to be used for its implementation. Thus, while we have entered a new stage of the GMO labeling debate, the uncertainty of GMO labeling is not yet fully resolved.
To read the legislation, visit this page.