Tag Archives: Food

Ohio Ag Law Blog–Ohio Legislation on the Move

Written by: Ellen Essman

We haven’t done a legislative update in a while—so what’s been going on in the Ohio General Assembly? Without further ado, here is an update on some notable ag-related bills that have recently passed one of the houses, been discussed in committee, or been introduced.

  • House Bill 7, “Create water quality protection and preservation”

This bill passed the House in June, but the Senate Finance Committee had a hearing on it just last month.  HB 7 would create both the H2Ohio Trust Fund and the H2Ohio Advisory Council.  To explain these entities in the simplest terms, the H2Ohio Advisory Council would decide how to spend the money in the H2Ohio Trust Fund.  The money could be used for grants, loans, and remediation projects to address water quality priorities in the state, to fund research concerning water quality, to encourage cooperation in addressing water quality problems among various groups, and for priorities identified by the Ohio Lake Erie commission.  The Council would be made up of the following: the directors of the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA), and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) the executive director of the Ohio Lake Erie commission, one state senator from each party appointed by the President of the Senate, one state representative from each party appointed by the Speaker of the House, and appointees from the Governor to represent counties, municipal corporations, public health, business or tourism, agriculture, statewide environmental advocacy organizations, and institutions of higher education. Under HB 7, the ODA, OEPA, and ODNR would have to submit an annual plan to be accepted or rejected by the Council, which would detail how the agencies planned to use their money from the Fund. You can find the bill in its current form here.

  • House Bill 24, “Revise Humane Society law”

HB 24 passed the House unanimously on October 30, and has since been referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources.  The bill would revise procedures for humane society operations and require humane society agents to successfully complete training in order to serve.  Importantly, HB 24 would allow law enforcement officers to seize and impound any animal the officer has probable cause to believe is the subject of an animal cruelty offense.  Currently, the ability to seize and impound only applies to companion animals such as dogs and cats.  You can read HB 24 here.

  • House Bill 160, “Revise alcoholic ice cream law”

Since our last legislative update, HB 160 has passed the House and is currently in Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee in the Senate.  At present, those wishing to sell ice cream containing alcohol must in Ohio obtain an A-5 liquor permit and can only sell the ice cream at the site of manufacture, and that site must be in an election precinct that allows for on- and off-premises consumption of alcohol.  This bill would allow the ice cream maker to sell to consumers for off-premises enjoyment and to retailers who are authorized to sell alcohol. To read the bill, click here.

  • House Bill 168, “Establish affirmative defense-certain hazardous substance release”

This bill was passed in the House back in May, but there have been several committee hearings on it this fall.  HB 168 would provide a bona fide prospective purchaser of a facility that was contaminated with hazardous substances before the purchase with immunity from liability to the state in a civil action.  In other words, the bona fide prospective purchaser would not have the responsibility of paying the state of Ohio for their investigations and remediation of the facility. In order to claim this immunity, the purchaser would have to show that they fall under the definition of a bona fide prospective purchaser, that the state’s cause of action rests upon the person’s status as an owner or operator of the facility, and that the person does not impede a response action or natural resource restoration at the facility. You can find the bill and related information here.

  • House Bill 183, “Allow tax credits to assist beginning farmers”

House Bill 183 was discussed in the House Agriculture & Rural Development Committee on November 12.  This bill would authorize a nonrefundable income tax credit for beginning farmers who attend a financial management program.  Another nonrefundable tax credit would be available for individuals or businesses that sell or rent farmland, livestock, buildings, or equipment to beginning farmers.  ODA would be in charge of certifying individuals as “beginning farmers” and approving eligible financial management programs. HB 183 is available here. A companion bill (SB 159) has been introduced in the Senate and referred to the Ways & Means Committee, but no committee hearings have taken place.

  • House Bill 373, “Eliminate apprentice/special auctioneer licenses/other changes”

HB 373 was introduced on October 22, and the House Agriculture & Rural Development Committee held a hearing on it on November 12. This bill would make numerous changes to laws applicable to auctioneers.  For instance, it would eliminate the requirement that a person must serve as an apprentice auctioneer prior to becoming an auctioneer; instead, it would require applicants for an auctioneers’ license to pass a course. The bill would also require licensed auctioneers to complete eight continuing education hours prior to renewing their license.  HB 373 would give ODA the authority to regulate online auctions conducted by  a human licensed auctioneer, and would require people auctioning real or personal property on the internet to be licensed as an auctioneer. To read the bill in its entirety and see all the changes it would make, click here.

  • Senate Bill 2, “Create watershed planning structure”

Since our last legislative post, SB 2 has passed the Senate and is now in the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If passed, this bill would do four main things. First, it would create the Statewide Watershed Planning and Management Program, which would be tasked with improving and protecting the watersheds in the state, and would be administered by the ODA director.  Under this program, the director of ODA would have to categorize watersheds in Ohio and appoint watershed planning and management coordinators in each watershed region.  The coordinators would work with soil and water conservation districts to identify water quality impairment, and to gather information on conservation practices.  Second, the bill states the General Assembly’s intent to work with agricultural, conservation, and environmental organizations and universities to create a certification program for farmers, where the farmers would use practices meant to minimize negative water quality impacts. Third, SB 2 charges ODA, with help from the Lake Erie Commission and the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission, to start a watershed pilot program that would help farmers, agricultural retailers, and soil and water conservation districts in reducing phosphorus.  Finally, the bill would allow regional water and sewer districts to make loans and grants and to enter into cooperative agreements with any person or corporation, and would allow districts to offer discounted rentals or charges to people with low or moderate incomes, as well as to people who qualify for the homestead exemption. The text of SB 2 is available here.

  • Senate Bill 234, “Regards regulation of wind farms and wind turbine setbacks”

Senate Bill 234 was just introduced on November 6, 2019.  The bill would give voters in the unincorporated areas of townships the power to have a referendum vote on certificates or amendments to economically significant and large wind farms issued by the Ohio Power and Siting Board. The voters could approve or reject the certificate for a new wind farm or an amendment to an existing certificate by majority vote.  The bill would also change minimum setback distances for wind farms might be measured.  SB 234 is available here.  A companion bill was also recently introduced in the House.  HB 401 can be found here.

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Filed under Animals, Business and Financial, Conservation Programs, Environmental, Food, Property, Renewable Energy, Uncategorized, Water

FDA backs standard date labels to cut down on confusion and food waste

Written by: Ellen Essman, Senior Research Associate

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.”

Food waste

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.

Food safety

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.

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Changes proposed for the Ohio Uniform Food Safety Code

Written by Ellen Essman, Senior Research Fellow 

Throughout the month of November, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) announced proposed amendments to rules, as well as the rescission and replacement of one rule, in the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) Chapter 3717-1, the Ohio Uniform Food Safety Code.  The changes are being recommended due to the required five year review of rules by ODH, as well as to “update the rules to be consistent to the current version of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Model Food Code,” which is required under Ohio law.

While most of the amendments to the rules are grammatical, or have to do with formatting or updating language, small, substantive changes are made in several rules.  For instance, the proposed changes in OAC 3717-1-01 would change several definitions to be “consistent with FDA’s Model Food Code.”  It would further “correct the definition of general use pesticide and restricted use pesticide to be consistent with the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s law,” among other changes.  Proposed changes to OAC 3717-1-02.3 to make it mandatory for all food employees to cover or “restrain” their hair in some way.  The changes recommended for 3717-1-03.2 would add requirements for the storage of utensils being used during cooking, prohibit the use of latex gloves in food service operations and retail food establishments, and add “nail brushes” to the list of control measures used by “food employees contacting ready-to-eat food with bare hands.”  Changes proposed for OAC 3717-1-03.4 would add new requirements for the contents of a HACCP plan.  Suggested modifications to 3727-1-08.2 would make it mandatory for the “[c]ustom processing of game animals, migratory waterfowl or game birds in a food service operation or retail food establishment…[to] be done only at the end of the work shift or day to prevent any cross contamination of product for sale or service.”

Finally, ODH proposes that 3717-1-20, which concerns existing facilities and equipment in a food service operation or food service operation, be rescinded and replaced.  Although this seems like a major change, there are no real substantive changes between the current rule and the proposed replacement; ODH is simply suggesting a considerable reorganization of the rule’s wording and formatting. The entire rules package is available here.

A hearing on the changes will be held on Thursday, December 20, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. at ODH.  The address is: 35 East Chestnut Street Columbus, Ohio 43215.  The hearing will take place in ODH Basement Training Room A.  Those who may be affected by the rules are invited to attend and participate. Any written comments must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. on December 18, 2018 to ODHrules@odh.ohio.gov.  More information about the hearing, as well as a brief description of the changes being made to each rule, can be found in this document.

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Meat Law Continues to Sizzle in the News

Written by: Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow, Agricultural and Resource Law Program

Every year, we hear fascinating legal updates at the American Agricultural Law Association’s annual conference.  Thanks to presentations by Todd Janzen and Brianna Schroeder of Janzen Ag Law in Indianapolis, we were inspired to learn a little more about trends in meat law.  For readers with a livestock operation, these legal issues can present great challenges, and keeping up to date on legal trends helps farmers stay prepared.

Veal, pork, and eggs: states battle each other on minimum confinement space regulations.

California voters passed Proposition 12 in the November 2018 election, which will require producers to comply with minimum confinement space regulations in order to sell certain products in California.  The Prevent Cruelty California Coalition placed the proposition on the ballot, expanding a previous regulation on in-state suppliers, but the new law would apply to any producer trying to sell veal, pork, or eggs in California.  By 2020, veal calves must be housed with at least 43 square feet of usable floor space, breeding pigs must be housed with at least 24 square feet of usable floor space, and egg-laying hens must have at least 1 square foot of floor space.  However, by 2022, egg-laying hens must be cage free.  Proposition 12 strengthens requirements approved by California voters in 2008’s Proposition 2 by imposing the requirements on out-of-state producers who want to sell their products in California.

In 2016, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot measure that would require eggs sold within the state to be cage free by 2022.  Thirteen states, led by Indiana, have sued Massachusetts in the United States Supreme Court in an attempt to stop Massachusetts from enforcing the requirement.  These states allege that the restriction is an attempt to regulate how farmers in other states operate, which violates the rights of other states to create their own regulations.  This would be a constitutional question under what is known as the Dormant Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from unfairly regulating business activities that have impacts beyond a state’s border.  Status updates on the lawsuit are available here.

Trying a legislative solution to slow the trend of cage-free restrictions, Iowa passed a law earlier this year that requires grocers that sell cage-free eggs to also sell conventional eggs if they want to receive benefits from the USDA WIC program.  Supporters of the law argued that cage-free eggs are often more expensive and excluded from the WIC program.  They argue that as a result, when grocers make commitments to sell only cage-free eggs, they make it more difficult for low-income families to purchase eggs.

Beef: non-meat proteins continue to target beef.

The “Impossible Burger” wants to convince consumers that a non-meat burger patty that tastes just like meat is just around the corner.  Veggie burgers are not new to the grocery store shelves, but recent innovations that have allowed non-meat proteins to improve in taste and texture have raised concerns among meat producers that these products are becoming a serious threat.  Given that many of these innovations have taken aim at the burger market, beef producers in particular have felt a target on their backs.  As we reported in a previous edition of The Harvest, Missouri became the first state this year to regulate labeling of non-animal products as being derived from an animal, and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association has petitioned the USDA to consider regulating labels involving animal terms like “meat.”  Other speakers at the AALA conference indicated that the USDA is currently debating how to regulate labels, but has yet to develop a comprehensive rule package.

Dairy contracts: always know what you are signing.

The market has been very tough for dairy producers.  Having a long term supply contract in place is certainly preferable to no contract, but depending upon the terms of the contract, unfortunate surprises may be in store.

Purchasers often write the contracts, and include terms that favor them.  For example, many contracts contain termination provisions that allow either party to end the agreement for essentially any reason with prior notice, often 30 days.  When producers invest in their operations under the expectation that the contract will stand throughout the term specified, these termination provisions can result in devastating surprises.  As another example, many contracts contain confidentiality agreements that make it difficult for a producer to determine whether the deal they are offered is great, average, or actually bad.  Equally concerning for producers are provisions that shift liability for problems with the milk to the producer, and away from the purchaser who sells the milk on the market.  With modern technology, tracking where milk originated makes this possible.  Courts are likely to enforce these agreements because the law of contracts favors enforcement of private agreements.

Given the current market, many dairy producers felt that they are not in a position to negotiate better terms, for fear that another dairy close by will accept the terms as-is.  This position is made worse by the inability of producers to talk about their contracts with one another because of confidentiality provisions.

What a producer can do is to read the contract carefully and make sure that he or she understands the terms of the contract.  It may be wise to speak with an attorney to verify that the producer’s understanding of the contract matches how the contract is likely to be read by a court.

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