Welcome to August! Despite the fact that most of us haven’t seen much besides the inside of our homes lately, the world still turns, which is also true for the gears in Washington D.C. In this issue of the Ag Law Harvest, we will take a look at some recently introduced and passed federal legislation, as well as a proposed federal rule.
Great American Outdoors Act is a go. The Great American Outdoors Act, one of the last pieces of legislation introduced by the late Representative John Lewis, was signed into law by the President on August 4. The new law secures funding for deferred maintenance projects on federal lands. The funding will come from 50% of the revenues from oil, gas, coal, or alternative energy development on federal lands. The funding will be broken down between numerous agencies, with 70% to the National Park Service each year, 15% to the Forest Service, 5% to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 5% to the Bureau of Land Management, and 5% to the Bureau of Indian Education. You can read the law in its entirety here.
A meat processing slowdown for worker safety? In addition to the Great American Outdoors Act, numerous bills have been introduced to help farmers, ag-related businesses, and rural areas in the wake of COVID-19. For instance, in early July, Ohio’s own Representative from the 11th District, Marcia Fudge, introduced H.R. 7521, which would suspend increases in line speeds at meat and poultry establishments during the pandemic. Notably, if passed, the bill would “suspend implementation of, and conversion to the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System,” which has been planned since the USDA published the final rule in October of 2019. It would also make the USDA suspend any waivers for certain establishments related to increasing line speed. The resolution was introduced to protect the safety of workers, animals, and food. In theory, slower line speeds would make it easier for workers to social distance. This is especially important in the wake of outbreaks among workers at many processing plants. On July 28, Senator Cory Booker introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
Will livestock markets become more competitive? On July 9, a group of Representatives from Iowa introduced H.R. 7501. The bill would amend the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 “to foster efficient markets and increase competition and transparency among packers that purchase livestock from producers. To achieve this outcome, the bill would require packers to obtain at least 50% of their livestock through “spot market sales” every week. This means that the packers would be required to buy from producers not affiliated with the packer. “Unaffiliated producers” would have less than a 1 percent equity interest in the packer (and vice versa), no directors, employees, etc. that are directors, employees, etc. of the packer, and no fiduciary responsibility to the packer. Additionally, the packer would not have an equity interest in a nonaffiliated producer. Basically, this bill would make it easier for independent producers to sell to packers. This bill is a companion to a Senate Bill 3693, which we discussed in a March edition of the Ag Law Harvest. According
New bill would make changes to FIFRA. Just last week, a new bill was proposed in both the House and Senate that would alter the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The bill is called the “Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act of 2020.” In a press release, the sponsoring Senator, Tom Udall, and Representative, Joe Neguse, explained that the proposed law would ban organophosphate insecticides, neonicotinoid insecticides, and the herbicide paraquat, which are linked to harmful effects in humans and the environment. Furthermore, the law would allow individuals to petition the EPA to identify dangerous pesticides, close the loopholes allowing EPA to issue emergency exemptions and conditional registrations to use pesticides before they are fully vetted, allow communities to pass tougher laws on pesticides without state preemption, and press the pause button on pesticides found to be unsafe by the E.U. or Canada until they undergo EPA review. Finally, the bill would make employers report pesticide-caused injuries, direct the EPA to work with pesticide manufacturers on labeling, and require manufacturers to include Spanish instructions on labels. You can read the text of the bill here.
USDA AMS publishes proposed Organic Rule. Moving on to federal happenings outside Congress, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service published a proposed rule on August 5. The rule would amend current regulations for organic foods by strengthening “oversight of the production, handling certification, marketing, and sale of organic agricultural products.” The rule would make it easier to detect any fraud, trace organic products, and would make organic certification practices for producers more uniform. Anyone interested in commenting on this proposed rule has until October 5, 2020 to do so. You can find information on how to submit a comment on the website linked above.
Written by Ellen Essman and Peggy Hall
This edition of the Ag Law Harvest has a little bit of everything—Ohio and federal legislation responding to COVID issues, new USDA guidance on bioengineered foods, and a judicial review of Bayer’s Roundup settlement. Read on to learn about the legal issues currently affecting agriculture.
Ohio COVID-19 immunity bill stalls. While the Ohio House and Senate agree with the concept of immunity for COVID-19 transmissions, the two chambers don’t yet see eye-to-eye on the parameters for COVID-19 liability protection. H.B. 606, which we reported on here, has passed both the House and Senate, but the Senate added several amendments to the legislation. The House won’t be addressing those amendments soon because it’s in recess, and doesn’t plan to return for business until at least September 15. The primary point of disagreement between the two bills concerns whether there should be a rebuttable presumption for Bureau of Workers’ Compensation coverage that certain employees who contract COVID-19 contracted it while in the workplace. The Senate amendment change by the Senate concerns exemption from immunity for "intentional conduct," changed to "intentional misconduct.” Currently, there is not a plan for the House to consider the Senate’s amendments before September 15.
Lawmakers propose bill to avoid more backlogs at processing plants.
Most people are aware that the COVID-19 pandemic created a huge backlog and supply chain problem in U.S. meatpacking plants. A group of bipartisan representatives in the House recently proposed the
Requiring Assistance to Meat Processors for Upgrading Plants Act, or RAMP-UP Act. The bill would provide grants up to $100,000 to meat and poultry processing plants so the plants could make improvements in order to avoid the kind of problems caused by the pandemic in the future. The plants would have to provide their own matching funds for the improvements. You can find the bill here.
Revisiting the Paycheck Protection Program, again. In a refreshing display of non-partisanship, Congress passed legislation in late June to extend the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Employers who haven’t taken advantage of PPP now have until August 8, 2020 to apply for PPP funds to cover payroll and certain other expenses. Several senators also introduced the Paycheck Protection Program Small Business Forgiveness Act, a proposal to streamline an automatic approval process for forgiveness of PPP loans under $150,000, but there’s been little action on the bill to date. Meanwhile, the American Farm Bureau Federation is in discussion with the Senate on its proposal for other changes to PPP that would expand access to PPP for agriculture.
More clarification for bioengineered food disclosure. You may recall that the National Bioengineered Food Law was passed by Congress in 2016. The legislation tasked USDA with creating a national mandatory standard for disclosing bioengineered foods. The standard was implemented at the beginning of 2020, but USDA still needed to publish guidance on validating a refining process and selecting an acceptable testing method. On July 8, 2020, that guidance was published. The guidance provides steps for industry to take when validating a food refining process under the rule. A lot of food refining processes remove traces of modified genetic material. So, if a refining process is validated, there is no further need to test for bioengineered material to disclose. The guidance also contains instructions on testing methods. Basically, “any regulated entity that is using a food on the AMS List of Bioengineered Foods and does not want to include a bioengineered food disclosure because the food or ingredient is highly refined and does not include detectable modified genetic material” should follow these testing instructions. Therefore, any entity with highly refined foods that do “not include detectable modified genetic material” should follow the recently published guidance.
Bayer settlement proposal under scrutiny. Last month, Bayer, the owner of Roundup, announced that it would settle around 9,500 lawsuits related to alleged injuries caused by using the product. Not only was the proposal supposed to settle previous lawsuits, but it was also meant to address any future lawsuits stemming from purported injuries caused by Roundup. A judge from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California recently pumped the breaks on this plan, stating that any settlement that would resolve “all future claims” against Roundup must first be approved by the court. A hearing will be held on July 24, where the court will decide whether or not to “grant preliminary approval of the settlement.”