Category Archives: Animals

USDA Sued over Country of Origin Labeling Regulations

Written by Ellen Essman, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

On June 19, 2017, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) and the Cattle Producers of Washington (CPoW) sued the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, over the legality of the current country of origin labeling  (COOL) regulations.  R-CALF USA and CPoW claim that USDA’s current COOL regulations do not require foreign beef and pork products to be labeled as such, and that in fact, the regulations allow the foreign meat to “be passed off as domestic products.”  This, they argue, hurts U.S. cattle and hog producers, as well as U.S. consumers.  The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, in Spokane.  In short, R-CALF USA and CPoW are asking the court to rule that the current COOL regulations are at odds with two federal laws: the Meat Inspection Act and the Tariff Act.

 Federal laws relating to Country of Origin Labeling

According to R-CALF USA and CPoW, two laws—the Meat Inspection Act and the Tariff Act—must be taken into account when thinking about COOL.  R-CALF USA and CPoW argue that read together, these two laws require imported meat from cattle and hogs to possess country of origin labels.

The Meat Inspection Act, at 21 U.S.C. §620(a), says that imported meat must “be marked and labeled as required by such regulations for imported articles.” “[R]egulations for imported articles” are governed by the Tariff Act.  The Tariff Act, in 19 U.S.C. §1304(a), states that “every article of foreign origin (or its container…) imported into the United States shall be marked in a conspicuous place…in such a manner as to indicate to an ultimate purchaser in the United States the English name of the country of origin of the article.”

Regulatory history

In the lawsuit, the parties argue that historically, USDA pork and beef regulations did not follow their understanding of the Meat Inspection and Tariff Acts, discussed above.  In other words, the regulations did not require COOL.  The 2002 Farm Bill changed that.  The parties say that the 2002 Farm bill had the “primary effect of requiring” COOL on meat products from animals imported into the U.S. and subsequently slaughtered after importation.

Following the Farm Bill’s lead, USDA changed its regulations concerning meat imported into the U.S. from other countries, including meat from hogs and cattle.  The regulation, found in 7 C.F.R. § 65.300, was finalized in 2009.  It stated that meat “derived from an animal that was slaughtered in another country shall retain [its] origin, as declared to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the time the product entered the United States, through retail sale,” or sale to the end consumer.  Therefore, COOL was required on meat imported into the U.S. The regulation also allowed for the “origin declaration” on labels to “include more specific location information related to production steps.”   This meant that the labels for beef and pork could include where the animals were born, raised, and slaughtered.

World Trade Organization decision and change to regulations

After the new COOL regulations went into place, they were challenged by Canada and Mexico.  The World Trade Organization (WTO) ultimately sided with Canada and Mexico.  WTO’s reasoning for this decision is outlined in a Congressional Research Service Report on the dispute, and was based on their finding that “COOL treats imported livestock less favorably than U.S. livestock.”

Following the WTO decision, Congress determined that beef and pork—both alive and slaughtered—no longer required COOL.  Similarly, USDA removed meat from cattle and hogs from its COOL regulations.  These actions, the parties argue, went too far.  R-CALF USA and CPoW argue that the WTO decision only involved cattle and hogs that were imported live, as opposed to imported meat.

It is important to note that a number of other foods are still required to have COOL, including lamb, goat, chicken, farm-raised fish and shellfish, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, and ginseng.  More information on COOL can be found here.

R-CALF USA and CPoW’s argument

Ultimately, the parties argue that USDA went too far when they removed all meat from cattle and hogs from their COOL labeling requirements.  They argue that the WTO decision focused on live hogs and cattle, as opposed to meat from those animals, and that WTO never “call[ed] into question the marks and labels required by the Tariff Act” for meat.  Thus, they argue that USDA regulations should continue to follow the Meat Inspection and Tariff Acts, as they did following the 2002 Farm Bill.

R-CALF and CPoW claim that as a result of USDA’s far-reaching retraction of COOL regulations, “beef and pork from animals in other countries” is permitted to have the “same labels as domestic meat.”  They claim that now, “imported beef and pork can even be labeled a ‘Product of the U.S.A.’” As a consequence of this type of labeling, the parties claim that both U.S. consumers and producers are harmed.

Conclusion

R-CALF and CPoW’s lawsuit heavily relies on the authority of the Tariff Act and the Meat Inspection Act.  Their argument, in its most basic form, is that the two laws require COOL for beef and pork, and that the WTO decision did not ever call those two laws into question.  Therefore, they feel that the change in regulations went further than was necessary to comply with the WTO decision.

The defendants named, USDA and Secretary Sonny Perdue, have not yet filed their response to the lawsuit.

R-CALF USA and CPoW’s lawsuit can be read here.

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Regulating Livestock Welfare Remains an Issue Around the Country

Written by:  Ellen Essman, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

Livestock producers in Ohio have been subject to standards for the care of livestock since 2011 but animal welfare is still a topic of debate around the country. Most recently, attention turned to the care of livestock raised under the National Organic Program and animals raised in confinement in Massachusetts.   In this post, we examine the proposed federal organic standards and a livestock care ballot initiative passed in Massachusetts.  The discussion provides an opportunity to take a look at the status of Ohio’s livestock care standards.

Federal Organic Standards

On January 19, 2017, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) promulgated a final rule for the National Organic Program (NOP).  The rule concerns practices for organic livestock and poultry.  Namely, the rule “clarifies how producers and handlers participating in the NOP must treat livestock and poultry to ensure their wellbeing.”  These treatment standards are applicable at numerous times throughout the lives of livestock, including when the animals are transported or slaughtered.  Additionally, the rule spells out the amount and type of indoor and outdoor space organic poultry must have under NOP.  The rule also describes the timing and methods for physically altering livestock and poultry under NOP.  The rule allows “[p]hysical alterations…only…for an animal’s welfare, identification, or safety.”  For example, the rule limits the use of teeth clipping and tail docking in pigs, and prohibits the de-beaking of chickens or face branding of cattle.  Many other banned and limited alterations are spelled out in the rule, as well as provisions that require active monitoring of animal health and treatment of injuries, sicknesses, and diseases.  The rule was originally supposed to become effective on March 20, 2017.  The Trump Administration, however, has since instituted a regulatory freeze in order to review recently made regulations.   In response to the regulatory freeze, AMS pushed back the effective date to May 19, 2017.  Barring any decisions by the new administration to the contrary, the rule should become effective on that date.  More information concerning this final rule is available here.

Massachusetts voters approve livestock confinement ballot initiative

Some states have taken it upon themselves to address various aspects of animal welfare.  This past Election Day, Massachusetts passed Question 3, a ballot initiative concerning confinement of livestock.  Question 3, also called the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, applies to farm owners and operators who raise breeding pigs, veal calves, and egg-laying hens within the state, and also to business owners and operators who sell products from such livestock within the state.  When the Act becomes effective on January 1, 2022, this will mean that any farmers or businesses selling their pork, veal, or eggs in Massachusetts, even if they are not physically located within the state, would have to comply with the state’s confinement rules.  The law prohibits the aforementioned livestock being “confined in a cruel manner,” meaning that the animals cannot be “confined so as to prevent [them] from lying down, standing up, fully extending [their] limbs, or turning around freely.”  There are certain exceptions to this rule, including during transport, at fairs, during a veterinary examination, etc.  When the Act goes into effect, violators will face a $1,000 civil fine per violation, and/or an injunction

Ohio Livestock Care Standards

As many will remember, Ohio has its own laws and regulations concerning livestock welfare.  Voters passed an amendment to the Ohio Constitution in 2009.  The amendment created the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, which was tasked with creating the actual “care standards” for livestock animals in the state.  The first of these “livestock care standards,” or rules, became effective on September 29, 2011.  Standards exist for different types of livestock and cover everything from acceptable euthanasia practices for each species, to the provision of food and water, to acceptable methods of transportation.  The board continues to meet regularly to review the care standards.

The regulations on livestock care include an investigation process initiated by complaints on potential violations of the standards.  Since the standards became effective, the Ohio Department of Agriculture has received a number of complaints and works with operators to bring them into compliance if the agency finds a violation. According to Farm and Dairy, there were 51 such investigations in 2012, 29 in 2013, and 23 in 2014.  In 2015, there were 33 investigations—23 of which resulted in no violations of the standards.   Producers can learn more about the livestock care standards at http://www.agri.ohio.gov/LivestockCareStandards.

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Legislation Proposes Tax Credits for Manure Infrastructure Investments

A legislative proposal to address manure infrastructure costs introduced by Rep. Brian Hill (R-Zanesville) is moving once again, receiving its third hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, April 26.  To continue reading this post, go to our new blog site, here.

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Manure Regulation in Ohio

Although long considered a natural fertilizer that can benefit our soils, manure has a history of increased regulation in recent years based on potential impacts to water quality.   The following explains how state and federal law regulates the production, storage and application of animal manure in Ohio.   To read this post, go to our new blog site at aglaw.osu.edu/blog.

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Leasing Your Land for Hunting: Legal Considerations

With fall quickly approaching, now is a good time to consider whether you should lease your land for hunting. To read this blog, go to aglaw.osu.edu/blog.

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Ohio Supreme Court agrees to hear appeal of $27,851 deer hunting fine

Hunting laws don’t often reach our highest court, but the Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to review one man’s challenge to an unlawful hunting action by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).  The case resulted in a fine of $27,851 against Huron County hunter Arlie Risner for the unlawful taking of an antlered white-tailed deer.

To read this post, go to our new blog at aglaw.osu.edu/blog.

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Maintaining Animals is not a Fundamental Right, Court Reminds Us

Peggy Hall, Asst. Professor, OSUE Agricultural & Resource Law Program       .

Does an Ohio resident have a constitutional right to keep rabbits, goats, chickens, horses, cows, ducks, turkeys, geese or other fowl on his or her property?  No, according to a recent decision by Ohio’s Eighth District Court of Appeals.  Nor does a city ordinance that prohibits the keeping of such animals violate the federal or state constitutions.

A resident of Bedford, Ohio raised the challenge after being found guilty of a minor misdemeanor for keeping a pygmy goal and four chickens at his home, in contradiction to a city ordinance.  The resident claimed that the city ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution and Ohio Constitution, Article 1, Section 1, which provides:  “All men are, by nature, free and independent, and have certain inalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and seeking and obtaining happiness and safety.”

But the court noted that the Ohio Constitution also states in Article 1, Section 19 that “Private property shall ever be held inviolate, but subservient to the public welfare,”  which allows a law to interfere with private rights to accomplish a valid public welfare purpose.   Where a law does affect private rights, the court explained that it must scrutinize the law and its purpose.  Interferences with fundamental private  rights require the most strict scrutiny, but the court quickly followed precedents set by other Ohio courts to reiterate that the right to maintain animals is not a fundamental right.  Thus, under a lower level of judicial scrutiny, a law that interferes with the right to keep animals will be upheld if the law is “rationally related to a legitimate government interest.”  According to the court, the Bedford ordinance surpasses this test because the law protects the public from unsanitary conditions and noxious odors by prohibiting certain animals in an urban area.

All is not lost for city dwellers who want farm animals, however.  Recognizing the popularity of “urban farms” and “backyard chickens,” the court explained that residents in urban areas can petition their lawmakers to allow such animals as pets.  The local government could permit the animals while protecting public safety and welfare through building requirements or restrictions on the number of animals, the court explained.

The Bedford case is not unusual, but illustrates a continuing trend in conflicts over keeping animals in urban areas.  To read the court’s opinion, see City of Bedford v. James L. Deal, here.

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