Category Archives: ag law harvest

The Ag Law Harvest

Written by Ellen Essman

Hello, readers! We hope you are all staying safe and healthy. Understandably, news related to agricultural law seems to have slowed down a little bit over the last few weeks as both the federal and state governments have focused mainly on addressing the unfolding COVID-19 outbreak.  That being said, there have been a few notable ag law developments you might be interested in.

Federal government extends the tax deadline.  The IRS announced on March 21 that the deadline for filing or paying 2019 federal income taxes will be extended to July 15, 2020.

Ohio Coronavirus Legislation. The Ohio General Assembly quickly passed House Bill 197 on Wednesday March 25, 2020.  HB 197 originally just involved changes to tax laws, but amendments were added to address the current situation.  Amendments that made it into the final bill include provisions for education—from allowing school districts to use distance learning to make up for instruction time, to waiving state testing.  Other important amendments make it easier to receive unemployment, move the state tax filing deadline to July 15, extend absentee voting, allow recently graduated nurses to obtain temporary licenses, etc. Of particular note to those involved in agriculture, HB 197 extends the deadlines to renew licenses issued by state agencies and political subdivisions.  If you have a state license that is set to expire, you will have 90 days after the state of emergency is lifted to renew the license.  HB 197 is available here. A list of all the amendments related to COVID-19 is available here.

Proposed changes to hunting and fishing permits in Ohio. In non-COVID news, Ohio House Bill 559 was introduced on March 18.  HB 559 would allow grandchildren to hunt or fish on their grandparents’ land without obtaining licenses or permits.  In addition, the bill would give free hunting and fishing licenses or permits to partially disabled veterans.  You can get information on the bill here.

EPA simplifies approach to pesticides and endangered species. Earlier this month, the U.S. EPA released its “revised method” for determining whether pesticides should be registered for use.  Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), federal agencies must consider whether an action (in this case, registration of a pesticide) will negatively impact federally listed endangered species. EPA is authorized to make decisions involving pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The revised method consists of a three-step process.  First, EPA will consider whether use of the pesticide “may affect” or conversely, have no effect on the listed species. If no effect is found, EPA can register the pesticide.  On the other hand, if EPA finds that the pesticide may affect the endangered species, it must examine whether the pesticide is “likely to adversely affect” the species. In this second step, if EPA decides that the pesticide may affect the endangered species, but is not “likely to adversely affect” the species, then the agency may register the pesticide with the blessing of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  Conversely, if EPA finds that the pesticide is likely to adversely affect the species, it must move on to step three, where it must work with FWS or NMFS to more thoroughly examine whether an adverse effect will “jeopardize” the species’ existence or “destroy or adversely modify its designated critical habitat.”  The revised method is meant to simplify, streamline, and add clarity to EPA’s decision-making.

EPA publishes rule on cyazofamid tolerances. Continuing the EPA/pesticide theme, on March 18, EPA released the final rule for tolerances for residues of the fungicide cyazofamid in or on commodities including certain leafy greens, ginseng, and turnips.

Administration backs off RFS In our last edition of the Ag Law Harvest, we mentioned that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals had handed a win to biofuels groups by deciding that EPA did not have the authority to grant three waivers to two small refineries in 2017. By granting the waivers, the EPA allowed the refineries to ignore the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and not incorporate biofuels in with their oil-based fuels. The Tenth Circuit decision overturned this action. The Trump administration has long defended EPA’s action, so that’s why it’s so surprising that the administration did not appeal the court’s decision by the March 25 deadline.

 Right to Farm statute protects contract hog operation.  If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you may recall that many nuisance lawsuits have been filed regarding large hog operations in North Carolina. In Lewis v. Murphy Brown, LLC, plaintiff Paul Lewis, who lives near a farm where some of Murphy Brown’s hogs are raised, sued the company for nuisance and negligence, claiming that the defendant’s hogs made it impossible for him to enjoy the outdoors and caused him to suffer from several health issues. Murphy Brown moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the nuisance claim should be disqualified under North Carolina’s Right to Farm Act, and that the negligence claim should be barred by the statute of limitations.  The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina made quick work of the negligence claim, agreeing with Murphy Brown that the statute of limitations had passed.  North Carolina’s Right to Farm Act requires a plaintiff to show all of the following: that he is the legal possessor of the real property affected by the nuisance, that the real property is located within one-half mile of the source of the activity, and that the action is filed within one year of the establishment of the agricultural operation or within one year of the operation undergoing a fundamental change.  Since the operation was established in 1995 and the suit was not brought until 2019, and no fundamental change occurred, the court determined that Lewis’s claim was barred by the Right to Farm Act.  Since neither negligence or nuisance was found, the court agreed with Murphy Brown and dismissed the case.

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The Ag Law Harvest

Written by Ellen Essman

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.

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The Ohio Ag Law Blog–Ag Law Harvest

Written by Ellen Essman

Hemp, drones, meat labeling and more—there is so much going on in the world of ag law!  With so much happening, we thought we’d treat you to another round of the Harvest before the holidays.

Hemp for the holidays.  As 2020 and the first growing season approach, there has been a flurry of activity surrounding hemp.  States have been amending their rules and submitting them to the USDA for approval in anticipation of next year.  In addition, just last week USDA extended the deadline to comment on the interim final hemp rule from December 30, 2019 to January 29, 2020. If you would like to submit a comment, you can do so here. To get a refresher on the interim rule, see our blog post here.

In other hemp news, EPA announced approval of 10 pesticides for use on industrial hemp.  You can find the list here.  Additional pesticides may be added to the list in the future.

Congress considers a potential food safety fix.  It’s likely that over the last several years, you’ve heard about numerous recalls on leafy greens due to foodborne illnesses.  It has been hypothesized that some of these outbreaks could potentially be the result of produce farms using water located near CAFOs to irrigate their crops.  A bill entitled the “Expanded Food Safety Investigation Act of 2019” has been introduced to tackle this and other potential food safety problems.  If passed, the bill would give FDA the authority to conduct microbial sampling at CAFOs as part of a foodborne illness investigation.  The bill is currently being considered in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Animal welfare bill becomes federal law.  In November, the President signed the “Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act” (PACT), into law.  PACT makes it a federal offense to purposely crush, burn, drown, suffocate, impale, or otherwise subject non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians to serious bodily injury.  PACT also outlaws creating and distributing video of such animal torture.  The law includes several exceptions, including during customary and normal veterinary, agricultural husbandry, and other animal management practices, as well as during slaughter, hunting, fishing, euthanasia, etc.

No meat labeling law in Arkansas? Last winter, Arkansas passed a law that made it illegal to “misbrand or misrepresent an agricultural product that is edible by humans.” Specifically, it made it illegal to represent a product as meat, beef, pork, etc. if the product is not derived from an animal.  Unsurprisingly, the law did not sit well with companies in the business of making and selling meat substitutes from plants and cells.  In July, The Tofurky Company sued the state in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Central Division, claiming the labeling law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the dormant Commerce Clause. On December 11, the District Court enjoined, or stopped Arkansas from enforcing, the labeling law.  This means that the state will not be able to carry out the law while the District Court considers the constitutionality of the law.  We will be following the ultimate outcome of this lawsuit closely.

Ag wants to be part of the drone conversation. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is currently considering a bill called the “Drone Advisory Committee for the 21st Century Act.” If passed, the bill would ensure that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) includes representatives from agriculture, forestry, and rangeland, in addition to representatives from state, county, city, and Tribal governments on the Drone Advisory Committee (DAC).  Thus, such representatives would be part of the conversation when the DAC advises the FAA on drone policies.

Ag financing tools may get an upgrade. The “Modernizing Agriculture and Manufacturing Bonds Act,” or MAMBA (what a great name) was introduced very recently in the House Committee on Ways and Means.  Text of the bill is not yet available, but when it is, it should be located here. According to this fact sheet, the bill would make a number of changes to current law, including increasing “the limitation on small issue bond proceeds for first-time farmers” to $552,500, repealing “the separate dollar limitation on the use of bond proceeds for depreciable property” which would mean famers could use the full amount for equipment, breeding livestock, and other capital assets, and modifying the definition of “substantial farmland” to make it easier for beginning farmers to gain access to capital.

Shoring up national defense of agriculture and food is on the docket.  The Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry sent the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility Act of 2019 (NBAF) to the floor of the Senate for consideration. Among other things, the bill would allow the USDA, through the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, to address threats from human pathogens, zoonotic disease agents, emerging foreign animal diseases, and animal transboundary diseases, and to develop countermeasures to such diseases.  Essentially, USDA and NBAF would see to national security in the arena of agriculture and food.

We hope you have a wonderful holiday season! We will be sure to continue the ag law updates in the next decade!

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The Ohio Ag Law Blog–The Ag Law Harvest

Written by Ellen Essman and Peggy Hall

The holidays are almost here, 2019 is almost over, but the world of ag law isn’t taking a break.  From cannabidiol, to Ohio bills on water quality and wind power, to a cage-free egg law in Michigan, here’s the latest roundup of agricultural law news you may want to know:

FDA warns companies about cannabidiol products. If you’ve been following the hemp saga unfold over the past year, you know that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been contemplating what to do with cannabidiol, or CBD from derived hemp products.  In addition to manufacturing standards, FDA has also considered how CBD products are marketed and labeled.  Although FDA has issued no official rules on CBD marketing and labeling, the agency has warned a number of companies that their marketing of CBD violates the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). On November 25, FDA sent warning letters to 15 companies.  FDA asserts that the companies “are using product webpages, online stores and social media to market CBD products in interstate commerce in ways that violate the FD&C Act.”  In particular, FDA is apprehensive about those companies who market CBD products in ways that claim they can treat diseases or be used therapeutically for humans and animals.  Since CBD has not been approved by FDA or found safe for these uses, companies cannot make such claims.  You can see FDA’s news release for more information and for the list of companies.

It won’t be as difficult for financial institutions to serve hemp related businesses.  Federal agencies and state bank regulators released a statement clarifying what is required of banks when hemp businesses are customers.  Since hemp was removed from the federal list of controlled substances, banks no longer have to file a Suspicious Activity Report on every customer involved in growth or cultivation of hemp just because they grow hemp.  This action will make it easier for those legally cultivating hemp to work with banks and obtain loans for their farms.  For more information, the agencies’ press release is available here.

Ohio House considers the Senate’s water quality bill.  Ohio’s House Energy & Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 2 just last week.  The bill would implement a Statewide Watershed and Planning Program through the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA). Under the bill, ODA would be charged with categorizing watersheds in Ohio and appointing coordinators for each of the watersheds.  ODA and the coordinators would work closely with soil and water conservation districts to manage watersheds.  Ag groups such as the Sheep Improvement Association, the Cattleman’s Association, the Pork Council, the Dairy Producers Association, and the Poultry Association testified in favor of SB 2.

Ohio House committee debates wind bill.  The House Energy & Natural Resources
Committee was busy last week—in addition to SB 2, they also discussed House Bill 401.  In the simplest terms, if passed, HB 401 would allow townships to hold a referendum on approved wind projects.  This means that with a vote, townships could overturn decisions made by the Ohio Power and Siting Board (OPSB).  In the committee hearing, wind industry representatives argued that such a referendum would be harmful, since it would overturn OPSB decisions after companies have already spent a great deal of money to be approved by the Board.  They also argued that the bill singles out the wind industry and does not allow referendums on other energy projects.  Republican committee members signaled that they may be willing to revise the language of HB 401 to allow a referendum before OPSB decisions.

Iowa’s ag-gag law is paused.  In May, we wrote about Iowa’s new ag-gag law, which was the state’s second attempt to ban undercover whistleblowers and journalists from secretly filming or recording at livestock production facilities.  In response, numerous animal rights groups sued the state, claiming that the law unconstitutionally prevents their speech based on content and viewpoint.  On December 2, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa issued a preliminary injunction, which means that the state will not be able to enforce the ag-gag law while the lawsuit against it is being considered. The preliminary injunction can be found here.

Cage free eggs coming to Michigan in 2024. Michigan lawmakers recently passed Senate Bill 174, which, among other things, will require that all birds producing eggs both in and out of the state be housed in “cage-free” facilities by 2024.  The cage-free facilities will have to allow hens to roam unrestricted with the exception of exterior walls, and some types of fencing to contain the birds.  In an indoor facility, the farmer must be able to stand in the hens’ usable floor space while caring for them.  In addition, the facilities must have enrichments for hens such as scratch areas, perches, nest boxes, and dust bathing areas. Michigan joins California, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington in banning non-cage-free eggs.  Note that Michigan’s law will apply to Ohio egg producers who sell eggs to buyers in Michigan.

Case watch:  hearing set in Lake Erie Bill of Rights case.   The court has set a January 28, 2020 hearing date for the slow moving federal lawsuit challenging the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) enacted by Toledo voters in February.  The hearing will likely focus on several motions to dismiss the case filed by the parties on both sides of the controversy, but Judge Zouhary indicated that he’ll set the agenda for the hearing prior to its date.  Drewes Farm Partnership filed the federal lawsuit against the City of Toledo in February, claiming that LEBOR is unconstitutional and violates several Ohio laws.  The State of Ohio was permitted to join the farm as plaintiffs in the case, but the court denied motions by Toledoans for Safe Water and the Lake Erie Ecosystem to join as defendants in the case.   For more on the LEBOR lawsuit, refer to this post and this post.  For our explanation of LEBOR, see this bulletin.

Stay tuned to the Ohio Ag Law Blog as we continue to track these and other developments in agricultural law through the holidays and beyond.

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Ohio Ag Law Blog–The Ag Law Harvest

Written by: Ellen Essman and Peggy Hall

October is almost over, and while farmers have thankfully been busy with harvest, we’ve been busy harvesting the world of ag law.  From meat labeling to RFS rules to backyard chickens and H-2A labor certification, here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news you may want to know:

Federal judge upholds Missouri’s meat labeling law—for now.  Missouri passed a law in 2018, which among other things, prohibited representing a product as “meat” if it is not derived from livestock or poultry.  As you can imagine, with the recent popularity of plant-based meat products, this law is controversial, and eventually led to a lawsuit.  However, U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. decided not issue a preliminary injunction that would stop the Missouri Department of Agriculture from carrying out the labeling law.  He reasoned that since companies like Tofurky, who brought the suit, label their products as plant-based or lab-grown, the law does not harm them.  In other words, since Tofurky and other companies are not violating the law, it doesn’t make sense to stop enforcement on their account. Tofurky, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the good Food Institute have appealed Judge Gaitan’s decision, asserting that Missouri’s law infringes upon their right to free speech.  This means that the Missouri law can be enforced at the moment, but the decision is not final, as more litigation is yet to come.

Oregon goes for cage-free egg law.   In August, Oregon passed a new law that would require egg-laying chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, or guinea fowl to be kept in a “cage-free housing system.” This law will apply to all commercial farms with more than 3,000 laying hens.  A cage-free housing system must have both indoor and outdoor areas, allow the hens to roam unrestricted, and must have enrichments such as scratch areas, perches, nest boxes and dust bathing areas.  As of January 1, 2024, all eggs sold in the state of Oregon will have to follow these requirements for hens.  The law does allow hens to be confined in certain situations, like for veterinary purposes or when they are part of a state or county fair exhibition.

City can ban backyard chickens, says court.   The Court of Appeals for Ohio’s Seventh District upheld the city of Columbiana’s ordinances, which ban keeping chickens in a residential district, finding that they were both applicable to the appellant and constitutional. In this case, the appellant was a landowner in Columbiana who lived in an area zoned residential and kept hens in a chicken coop on his property.  The appellant was eventually informed that keeping his hens was in violation of the city code.  A lawsuit resulted when the landowner would not remove his chickens, and the trial court found for the city. The landowner appealed the trial court’s decision, arguing that he did not violate the city ordinances as they were written, and that the city applied the ordinances in an arbitrary and unreasonable way because his chickens did not constitute a nuisance. Although keeping chickens is not explicitly outlawed in Columbiana, the Court of Appeals for Ohio’s Seventh District found that reading the city’s zoning ordinances all together, the “prohibition on agricultural uses within residential districts can be inferred.”  Furthermore, the court pointed out that the city’s code did not ban chickens in the whole city, but instead limited them to agricultural districts, and that the prohibition in residential areas was meant to ensure public health.  For these reasons, the court found that the ordinances were not arbitrarily and unreasonably applied to the appellant, and as a result, the ordinances are constitutional.  To read the decision in its entirety, click here.

EPA proposes controversial Renewable Fuel Standard rule.   On October 15, EPA released a notice of proposed rulemaking, asking for more public comment on the proposed volumes of biofuels to be required under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program in 2020.  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.  The administration promised a fix to this in early October, but many agricultural and biofuels groups feel that EPA’s October 15 proposed rule told a different story. Many of these groups are upset by the proposed blending rules, claiming that way the EPA proposes calculate the biofuel volumes would cause the volumes to fall far below what the groups were originally promised by the administration. This ultimately means the demand for biofuels would be less.  On the other hand, the EPA claims that biofuels groups are misreading the rule, and that the calculation will in fact keep biofuel volumes at the level the administration originally promised. The EPA plans to hold a public hearing on October 30, followed by a comment period that ends November 29, 2019.  Hopefully the hearing and comments will help to sort out the disagreement. More information is available here, and a preliminary version of the rule is available here.

New H-2A labor certification rule is in effect.    The U.S. Department of Labor has finalized one of many proposed changes to the H-2A temporary agricultural labor rules.  A new rule addressing labor certification for H-2A became effective on October 21, 2019.  The new rule aims to modernize the labor market test for H-2A labor certification, which determines whether qualified American workers are available to fill temporary agricultural positions and if not, allows an employer to seek temporary migrant workers.   An employer may advertise their H-2A job opportunities on a new version of the Department’s website, SeasonalJobs.dol.gov, now mobile-friendly, centralized and linked to third-party job-search websites.  State Workforce Agencies will also promote awareness of H-2A jobs.  Employers will no longer have to advertise a job in a print newspaper of general circulation in the area of intended employment. For the final rule, visit this link.

And more rules:  National Organic Program rule proposals.  The USDA has also made two proposals regarding organic production rules.  First is a proposed rule to amend the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for organic crops and handling.  The rule would allow blood meal made with sodium citrate to be used as a soil amendment, prohibit the use of natamycin in organic crops, and allow tamarind seed gum to be used as a non-organic ingredient in organic handling if an organic form is not commercially available.  That comment period closes on December 17, 2019.  Also up for consideration is USDA’s request to extend the National Organic Program’s information collection reporting and recordkeeping requirements, which are due to expire on January 31, 2020.  The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service specifically invites comments by December 16, 2019 on:  (1) whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information will have practical utility; (2) the accuracy of the agency’s estimate of the burden of the proposed collection of information including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used; (3) ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and (4) ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on those who are to respond, including the use of appropriate automated, electronic, mechanical, or other technological collection techniques or other forms of information technology.

Great Lakes restoration gets a boost from EPA.  On October 22, 2019, the EPA announced a new action plan under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).  The plan will be carried out by federal agencies and their partners through fiscal year 2024.  Past GLRI action plans have removed environmental impairments on the lakes and prevented one million pounds of phosphorus from finding its way into the lakes.  The plans are carried out by awarding federal grant money to state and local groups throughout the Great Lakes, who use the money to carry out lake and habitat restoration projects.  Overall, the new plan’s goals are to remove toxic substances from the lakes, improve and delist Areas of Concern in the lakes, control invasive species and prevent new invasive species from entering the lakes, reduce nutrients running off from agriculture and stormwater, protect and restore habitats, and to provide education about the Great Lakes ecosystem.  You can read EPA’s news release on the new plan here, and see the actual plan here. We plan to take a closer look at the plan and determine what it means for Ohio agriculture, so watch for future updates!

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The Ag Law Harvest

Written by Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow, OSU Extension Agricultural & Resource Law Program

Farm Science Review is upon us, and we’re hoping that the low-80s forecast holds true.  In addition to checking the weather report, we’ve been monitoring the news for developments in the agricultural law world, and quizzing each other on agricultural law topics so that we’re ready to answer your questions.  While we hope you come see our presentations (speaking schedule available HERE), we won’t make you wait until you see us at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London to learn what we’ve found in the news.

Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news you may want to know:

Family Farmer Relief Act of 2019 signed into law.  We’ve talked about this bill on the ag law blog, and now it’s official.  With the President’s signature, the debt limit for family farmers seeking to reorganize under Chapter 12 bankruptcy increases to $10 million from an adjusted $4.4 million.

No vote on community rights in Williams County, yet.  A proposed county charter for Williams County, Ohio containing language similar to the Lake Erie Bill of Rights may not make it on the November ballot.  The Ohio Supreme Court recently refused to compel the Williams County Board of Elections (BOE) to include the charter on the ballot for procedural reasons.

The charter would have declared that the people of Williams County have the right to a healthy environment and sustainable community, and that the Michindoh Aquifer and its ecosystem have the right to exist, flourish, evolve, regenerate.  Further, the aquifer would have the right of restoration, recovery, and preservation, including the right to be free from interferences such as the extraction, sale, lease, transportation, or distribution of water outside of the aquifer’s boundary.

Even though the petition to put the charter on the ballot had enough signatures, the BOE believed that the language of the charter violated Ohio law, and therefore exercised its power to reject the petition and keep it off the ballot.  The petitioners appealed the BOE’s decision to the Williams County Court of Common Pleas, and that court agreed with the BOE.  Instead of going to the Court of Appeals, the petitioners tried to go directly the Ohio Supreme Court because the BOE will soon print the November ballots.  The Ohio Supreme Court said the petitioners should have gone to the Court of Appeals first, and that it will not decide on whether the BOE has to include the charter on the ballot until the petitioners do so.

This doesn’t mean the end for the proposed charter, but rather that more court time is in the proposed charter’s future.  To read the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion, click HERE.  To read the text of the proposed charter, click HERE.

Hemp, hemp, and more hemp.  Legal and policy updates on hemp continue to trickle down from state and federal officials.  Since our last blog post, when we released our latest law bulletin on the legal status of hemp in Ohio, there have been a couple additional developments.

One of the latest updates we’ve heard from USDA is that industrial hemp growers in states with a USDA-approved hemp production plan may apply for crop insurance to cover hemp grown for fiber, flower, or seeds starting next year.  Ohio is in the process of putting together a hemp program to send to the USDA for approval.  Ohio farmers still cannot legally grow hemp until the Ohio Department of Agriculture creates a hemp program and the USDA approves that program, but we are expecting rules to be released from those agencies in the coming weeks.  For more about the crop insurance update, read the Risk Management Agency’s press release HERE.

Closer to home, we’ve heard that the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) has requested $3.3 million from the Ohio Controlling Board for staffing along with IT equipment and support.  Further, ODA has made statements predicting that it expects to have its rule hemp program rule package ready by the end of the year.

Federal court orders U.S. EPA to reconsider Renewable Fuel Standards waivers and their impact on endangered species.  The U.S. EPA is responsible for creating fuel standards that incorporate and blend renewable sources of energy under the Clean Air Act.  These standards tell refineries how much of their fuel blend must come from renewable sources of energy; however, the U.S. EPA also has the authority to grant waivers to companies that would have difficulty meeting the standard.  The court noted that some industry groups felt that the 2018 rules were too strict, while others argued that they were too lax.  The court ended up dismissing all but one of the claims against the U.S. EPA, saying that Congress gave it discretion in developing the standards.  However, the court sent the rule back to the U.S. EPA due to an argument by environmental groups that the federal agency failed to conduct a thorough review of the risk to endangered animals, plants, and habitats under the Endangered Species Act.  Many farm groups have criticized the Trump administration’s granting of waivers for causing a reduction in demand for their products from energy companies, but it appears that they will have to make their arguments to the administration rather than to the courts.  To read the D.C. Circuit’s opinion, click HERE.

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The Ag Law Harvest

Written by Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow, OSU Extension Agricultural and Resource Law Program

August turned out to be a very busy month for food law.  We’re again reading headlines about the definition of meat and debates over cage-free egg laws.  We’ve also come across some interesting criminal actions involving organic labeling fraud and undocumented workers at poultry processing plants.  And yet again we have a Roundup update, but fortunately for Bayer, the target of the latest lawsuits are Home Depot and Lowe’s.  So without further ado, here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news you may want to know:

Tofurkey cries foul against state definitions of meat.  The maker of edible vegetarian products designed to replicate the taste and texture of meats is fighting back against state labeling and advertising laws that require products labeled as “meat” to be made of meat.  Tofurky filed a lawsuit in federal court in Arkansas to stop the state from enforcing such laws, which is similar to a lawsuit it filed in Missouri and yet another company filed in Mississippi.  Livestock advocacy groups succeeded in having 12 states pass laws restricting the ability of food producers to refer to their products as meats if those products contain no meat.  Livestock advocacy groups argue that the labeling practices are confusing and misleading to consumers, while companies like Tofurky argue that they have a constitutional right to describe their products with meat terminology.  On its website, Tofurky lists beer brats, jumbo hot dogs, “slow roasted chick’n,” “ham style roast,” and more.  None of the products contain meat.

Organic food fraud puts farmers in jail.  A federal judge sentenced a 60-year-old Missouri farmer to serve 10 years and 2 months in prison after being convicted of wire fraud, which is the federal crime of committing financial fraud through the use of a telecommunications wire across state lines.  This includes placing a phone call, sending an email, or advertising online in the furtherance of the fraudulent scheme.  Another three farmers were also sentenced to prison for terms ranging from 3 months to 2 years for their participation.  The fraud involved a decade-long scheme to mix traditional corn and soybeans with a small amount of organic grains and then label everything as certified organic.  The grains were mostly sold as animal feed to producers and companies selling organic meat.  Organic products generally are sold at a high premium, and the volume of goods in this scheme resulted in the farmers receiving millions of dollars from consumers that was fraudulently obtained.  The lengthy prison sentences reflect the farmers’ intentional misrepresentation and mislabeling.  In other words, it was not an accident.

Oregon joins California and Washington to make the west coast cage-free.  States continue to battle over whether eggs should come from cage-free hens or caged hens.  When we last discussed the topic HERE in May, the governor of the state of Washington had just signed his state’s cage-free requirement into law.  Iowa, the nation’s leading egg producing state, has gone the other way in trying to limit cage-free egg production.  Now, Oregon is set to ban the purchase or sale of eggs and egg products from caged hens starting in 2024.  However, Oregon’s law exempts eggs and egg products from caged hens if the sale occurs at a federally inspected plant under the Egg Products Inspection Act or if the caged hens were at a commercial farm with a flock of fewer than 3,000 hens.  You can read the text of the bill HERE.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids poultry processing plants.  Federal immigration officials have alleged that managers at five Mississippi poultry processing plants knowingly hired undocumented aliens who are not authorized to work in the United States.  Fines for individuals or companies proven to have actual knowledge that they hired undocumented workers can reach up to $3,000 per undocumented worker.  Individuals may also face prison time.  According to news reports, ICE arrested 680 possibly undocumented workers during its August 7th raids in Mississippi.  In their applications for the search warrants, the investigators alleged that the companies hired undocumented workers who were wearing GPS ankle monitors as they await deportation hearings, reported Social Security numbers of deceased persons, and used different names at different times.

Latest Roundup lawsuit targets retailers Home Depot and Lowe’s.  You’ve heard us talk before about the thousands of lawsuits against Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) based on the allegation that the glyphosate in products like Roundup has caused cancer.  If you’d like a refresher, you can review our last post HERE.  Now, instead of going after the manufacturer, a new plaintiff is going after retailers.  Plaintiff James Weeks filed two class action complaints in federal court in California against Home Depot and Lowe’s, alleging that the home improvement giants failed to adequately warn customers about the safety risks posed by using the popular weed killer.  Mr. Weeks argues that the labeling leaves the average consumer with the impression that the greatest risk of harm is eye irritation, when in fact the retailers know of the product’s potential carcinogenic properties.  As these complaints are class action complaints, Mr. Weeks seeks to claim representative status over all consumers who purchased Roundup products from these retailers, and thereby lead the case against the retailers.  It will be interesting to see whether the court certifies these cases as class actions, or if this strategy falls short for the plaintiff.  You can read the complaint against Home Depot HERE.

Food giants seek silence from U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.  In 2015, the U.S. Commodity Futures Tradition Commission initiated a lawsuit against Mondelez International Inc. and Kraft Heinz Co. for allegedly manipulating the wheat futures market.  All parties recently agreed to an undisclosed settlement, and entered into a consent order with the court to close the matter.  The agreement apparently included a provision that all parties would refrain from publically commenting about the settlement.  However, the federal agency ended up commenting on the settlement by the end of the week in which the agreement was finalized.  Mondelez and Kraft Heinz believe that such statements violated the terms of the consent order, although the federal agency contests the allegation.  Nonetheless, the confidentiality restrictions make it difficult to know the full details of the settlement.  All we know for certain is that there was one.

Federal courts report that Chapter 12 family farm bankruptcies are on the rise.  The federal court system releases data every quarter on the number of bankruptcies filed each month in that quarter.  The latest numbers for April to June 2019 showed a slight increase in the number of Chapter 12 bankruptcies filed when compared to the same time period in 2018.  Nationwide, there were 164 new filings, compared to 135 in the second quarter of 2018.  The numbers show a gradual increase in the use of Chapter 12 bankruptcy since 2013, but the numbers are starting to tick up to levels not seen since the Great Recession.  Chapter 12 bankruptcy is a special form of bankruptcy that can only be used by family farmers and family fishermen whose total debts do not exceed a certain dollar limit.  The current dollar limit is $4.4 million, but there is legislation awaiting President Trump’s signature to increase the limit to $10 million.  In large part because of these restrictions, Chapter 12 is one of the least commonly used forms of bankruptcy.

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