Saturday, January 24, 2015

Call for Papers: Current Issues of Agricultural Law in a Global Perspective

Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna

Editor's note: This announcement has been posted on behalf of Andrea Saba, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, Pisa, Italy.

Call for Papers: International Colloquium, Current Issues of Agricultural Law in a Global Perspective, Pisa, Italy, September 17-18, 2015

  • Deadline for abstract: April 3, 2015
  • Deadline for draft paper: July 3, 2015

The Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna and the Institute of Law, Politics and Sustainability are pleased to announce the First Edition of the International Colloquium on Current Issues in Agricultural Law in a Global Perspective. The Colloquium is intended to be an opportunity for post-docs and Ph.D candidates to present and discuss their research results and methodological approaches in a supportive environment. The aim is to build a community of early career researchers interested in agricultural law and its intersections with other legal areas.

We welcome both theoretical and empirical papers as well as studies on issues at the local, regional and international levels. The main topics include:

  • Natural Resources and Environmental Protection at the cross-roads with Agricultural Law;
  • Agricultural Models and People’s Rights;
  • Agri-Food Production: Tradition and Technologies;
  • International Trade Agreements, Investment Law and Agriculture

Those interested should submit a short CV and 400 word abstract to no later than April 3, 2015.

For full details, including information about application processes, please see the official call for papers.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

"All I know is that I like to eat kale."

NPR's All Things Considered ran a delightful story on the kids at Watkins Elementary in Washington, D.C. Why These Kids Love Kale, (Nov. 14, 2014).

There, thanks to Food Prints, a program founded by the program D.C. nonprofit FRESHFARM Markets, the kids have a garden that they tend. They grow healthy food as a class, and then they all get to help prepare it.  As 9-year-old Alex Edwards says, "All I know is that I like to eat kale. I like it, I like it, I like it!"

There are lots of problems in the world right now.  Lots of problems with our food system, significant environmental challenges, and increasing inequalities.  So, once in a while, it is refreshing to hear a story that reminds us that not all problems are overwhelming or insurmountable.
"A big part of it is allowing them to do real work," says FoodPrints Program Director Jennifer Mampara. She believes kids get tired of doing work that only is meant to keep them busy. With Foodprints, "they really go into a real garden. They're really harvesting it out of the ground. And they're actually cooking the food themselves."
It's actually a very Montessorian concept - the belief children want to learn how to do things for themselves and to do productive work. I observed it first hand in my past days in running a Montessori pre-school and child care center.

School gardens and involving children in food preparation is such a simple concept.  But, of all the things we do to try improve our food system, it may turn out to be one of the most enduring and significant.

Changing the way we think about food, one child at a time.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

New and Significant Documentary: Food Chains

I am writing this post from LAX, on my way home from the UCLA-Harvard Law School Food Law & Policy Conference.  It was an excellent conference, bringing together food law scholars and policy experts from across the world.  There were many highlights, including a fantastic key note address by Dr. David Kessler.  Special thanks go to Michael Roberts, Director of the Resnick Program for Food Law & Policy for his work in pulling together such an excellent event.

One aspect of the conference provided a unique opportunity.  After the substantive sessions, conference participants were treated to a private screening of the new film Food Chains followed by a panel discussion that included the film's Director, Sanjay Rawal.  I recommend this film highly to anyone involved in agricultural law, food law, or interested in our food system.

Food Chains is the story of farmworkers in America, through the lens of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in Southern Florida.  Their courage and the successes they have achieved is a story of human dignity and hope.  But, their struggles continue to be daunting.

As the film's website notes, "[t]here is more interest in food these days than ever, yet there is very little interest in the hands that pick it."  Daniel Rothenberg expressed a similar theme in his description of the underworld of agricultural labor in his phenomenal book, With These Hands: The Hidden World of Migrant Farmworkers Today. When I have taught my Agricultural Labor Law class, I have always assigned this book.  In recent years, a few students have questioned whether the types of abusive labor practices described in the book could still be prevalent. The book was first written in that late 1990's and published in paperback in 2000.  While I tell them that little has changed, Food Chains makes the point in a way that I could never do on my own.  And, it does so with documented personal stories from the workers themselves as they battle for a better life -  and for the rights that most workers take for granted.

Food Chains is now being screened at locations across the country. It will be released nationwide November 21st.  Information about screenings and the release is available on the film website and on its Facebook page.

I encourage everyone to view this important film.  It tells the back story of something that touches us all -  the fruit and vegetables we eat.  Every time we order a salad, have a hamburger with a slice of tomato on it, or enjoy fruit on our morning cereal - we should consider the workers who provided us with the produce we enjoy. They deserve a safe working environment and a living wage.  All too often today, they have neither.  Food Chains is, in effect, a sequel to the landmark documentary, Harvest of Shame. It is tragic that so little has changed.  As a society, we need to ask why and to finally fix the problem.  Food Chains is an important first step.

And our event occurred appropriately on World Food Day,  a related milestone was announced as well -  the CIW revealed its new food label.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Did the dismissal of Missouri v. Harris have an unanticipated effect?

Source:  Center for Food Safety
The latest chapter in the California battery cage saga ended last week.  State of Missouri, et al. v. Harris is no more.

Background:  California’s Prevention of Farm Cruelty Act was enacted in a 2008 ballot initiative (Prop 2).  The law, which takes effect on January 1, 2015, criminalizes production practices that involve confining or tethering a farmed animal “for all or the majority of the day, in a manner that prevents such animal from (a) lying down, standing up, and fully extending his or her limbs; and (b) turning around freely.”  One such confinement practice is the use of battery cages for laying hens, so the department of agriculture issued specific hen housing standards.  At the urging of California egg producers, in 2010 the legislature enacted AB 1437, which, as of January 1, will ban the sale of eggs for human consumption produced in violation of the new standards.  In February the state of Missouri filed for declaratory relief, alleging that AB 1437 violates the “dormant” commerce clause and is otherwise preempted by the Poultry Products Inspection Act.  Alabama, Kentucky, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Governor Branstad of Iowa joined as plaintiffs in Missouri v. Harris shortly thereafter.)  The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) and the Association of California Egg Farmers joined as Defendant-Intervenors in March and April, respectively.

Last week, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed the case for lack of standing.  Plaintiffs based their standing on the parens patriae doctrine, claiming to represent the interests of their respective citizenry.  The court disagreed, finding it "patently clear" that Plaintiffs were actually representing the interests of “a discrete group of egg farmers,” and an undefined group at that.

Plaintiffs' standing argument suffered from a lack of evidence of its projected injuries.  Most telling was the insistence that allegations as to California's "effort to restrain interstate commerce" were sufficient for "alleg[ing] injury to quasi-sovereign interests."  Further, Plaintiffs argued that imminent injuries to egg producers (that is, to those which have not begun converting production methods) would reverberate to their citizenries at large.  Stated plainly, business interests = public interests. The court wasn't having it.  Characterizing the states' attempts at parens patriae standing as “futile,” the court dismissed with prejudice.

How could the challengers have made such a fundamental mistake?  More to the point, who and where were the "discrete group of egg farmers"?  Not a single producer or trade organization moved to intervene or file an amicus brief.  The only friend of the court was the Missouri Liberty Project, formed in March 2014 by the attorney representing Hobby Lobby in last term’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores.  California was joined by eleven amici, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Center for Food Safety.

Where were the trade organizations?  

To be sure, United Egg Producers (UEP) would have been an obvious choice of plaintiff.  However, given the UEP’s very public support for the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments in 2012 and 2013 (S. 820 / H.R. 1731), the organization would have struggled to meet the high standards for obtaining declaratory and injunctive judgments.  Had it not been struck from the 2014 farm bill during final discussions, the "Egg Bill" would have mandated phasing out use of battery cages over the next 15 years.  Despite UEP's recent policy reversal, the horse chicken has left the barn.

Nor should it come as a surprise that the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service’s American Egg Board has kept quiet for now.  In 2008, the HSUS successfully enjoined AEB from improperly using federal check-off funds in a media campaign to oppose Proposition 2.  Californians for Humane Farms v. Schafer, No. C 08-03843 MHP, 2008 WL 4449583 (Sept. 29, 2008 N. D. Calif.).  That leaves the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, which doesn’t appear to participate in litigation efforts.

Where were the egg producers?  

Several factors suggest that taking the lead on this challenge would be a public relations debacle for egg producers:  1) the increased media attention on industrial animal farming practices; 2) the expanding community of retailers, restaurants, and manufacturers announcing intentions to source eggs from non-battery cage producers (Heinz being the most recent); 3) the aforementioned “Egg Bill” campaign; and 4) the fact that California joins Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington in raising standards for egg-laying hens. (The European Union’s 1999 ban on battery cages took effect in 2012.)

Although I can’t predict what will happen next with A.B. 1437, the dismissal of Missouri v. Harris likely made an impression on at least one Supreme Court justice.

Heads up:  Association des Eleveurs de Canards et d’oies du Quebec v. Harris

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court deferred rendering a decision on a petition for certiorari over another California farmed animal production practices law, the "foie gras ban."

In 2005, California’s legislature banned the production and sale of foie gras.  More precisely, the act bans “force feed[ing] a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird's liver beyond normal size, or hir[ing] another person to do so,” Calif. Health & Safety code § 25981, and selling products resulting from these methods, § 25982.  In 2012 the ban became effective and was immediately challenged by a Canadian trade group, (the Association des Éleveurs de Canards et d'Oies du Québec), a New York-based foie gras producer (Hudson Valley Foie Gras, LLC), and a chain of Californian restaurants. Notably, no American trade organization representing the U.S. poultry industry joined.

Plaintiffs challenged the statute as (1) void for vagueness; (2) a due process violation for “imposition of penalty without requiring mens rea for conduct not involving public health or safety”; and 3) a violation of the dormant Commerce Clause.  The district court denied Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction, finding an insufficient showing of irreparable harm and likelihood of success on the merits, and the ninth circuit affirmed. 729 F.3d 937 (9th Cir. 2013).

Plaintiffs appealed to the highest court, which considered the case in its first conference this term. Last week, before the ruling in Missouri v. Harris, the Supreme Court granted petitions for 11 new cases – and Canards was not one of them.  It would have been reasonable to assume that the Court was planning to deny cert.  Yesterday, however, when the Court issued orders (including denials of petition), Canards was missing from the list.  Stay tuned.

The question presented:

Whether the Commerce Clause allows California to impose a complete ban on the sale of wholesome, USDA-approved poultry products from other States and countries - in this case, foie gras - based solely on the agricultural methods used by out-of-state farmers who raise their animals entirely beyond California's borders.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Publication Opportunity and Symposium Announcement: "The Sustainable Table"

The Journal of Environmental and Sustainability Law (JESL) was established at the University of Missouri Law School in 1993 as the Missouri Environmental Law & Policy Review (MELPR). In the spring of 2012, MELPR became JESL. JESL focuses on national environmental issues, with an emphasis on law and policy relevant to a sustainable world. JESL publishes two editions a year, one in the spring and one in the fall.

JESL editors invite article submissions, and are very receptive to work focusing on food law and policy issues. Submission via ExpressO or via email to Articles Editor Allison Tungate ( is preferred. Relatively quick decision, editing, and publication timeframes are available.

In Addition, JESL’s annual symposium for 2015 will take as its theme “The Sustainable Table.” The tentative date is Friday, April 3, 2015. Authors interested in presenting and publishing their work as part of the symposium are encouraged to contact Symposium Editor Ted Lynch ( or Editor-in-Chief Scott Martin (

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Journal of Food Law & Policy Seeking Article Submissions

The Journal of Food Law & Policy is seeking article submissions.  For ten years, the Journal has been a leading voice in the food law and policy movement, publishing legal scholarship on a wide variety of food law issues. While some articles have reflected the traditional food and drug law approach and presented excellent regulatory analysis, more typically, the articles have presented a look beyond this. They have discussed the most relevant current food policy issues, often with a systemic perspective that transcends the legal academy's traditional approach. The Journal strives for excellent scholarship with "real world" significance -  a mission appropriate for the one area of law that touches everyone in the world -  food.

The Journal's leadership role and its tenth anniversary were noted by authors Baylen Linnekin (Keep Food Legal) and Emily Broad Lieb (Harvard's Food Law and Policy Clinic) in their recent article, Food Law & Policy: The Fertile Field's Origins & First Decade. It was published at 2014 Wisc. L. Rev. 557 last Spring.  A companion video, Food Law & Policy describes the emerging discipline, interviews leaders in the field, and credits the Journal for its innovation. My appreciation is extended to Baylen and Emily for this recognition and for the opportunity to participate in the video.

The Journal of Food Law & Policy continues to be the only student-edited U.S. law journal focused exclusively on food law and policy issues. Journal articles are available on both Westlaw and Hein On Line, and a new web site will soon post past issues for download.  Regular features include food law updates from the United States, the European Union, and Canada. The Journal is published twice a year and is edited by some of the top law students at the University of Arkansas School of Law. I am privileged to serve as the faculty advisor.

This year's Editor in Chief is A. Jordan Broyles. I worked closely with Jordan last year as a Journal candidate when she undertook the challenging task of writing about the historical struggle in regulating raw milk sales. I am confident that Jordan will be an excellent leader for the Journal this year, and I look forward to working with her, the board, and the new candidates.

In a new development, I am pleased to announce that this year at the request of the Journal, we are connecting the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law with the Journal by adding an LL.M. Advisor from this year's class. LL.M. candidate Justin Crawley has agreed to serve in this capacity and has already begun work with the Journal staff.  Justin received his from J.D. from Appalachian School of Law where he served as Senior Editor of the Appalachian Natural Resources Law Journal and was the recipient of “Exceptional Service Award” for outstanding performance on a student publication.  Justin also served as the President and Chief of the Executive Board of the Environmental Law Society. His leadership and support will be very helpful to Jordan and her staff.

Please consider submitting your publication to the Journal. We may be able to include additional articles in our Fall publication, offering a very prompt production schedule.  Submission can be made through ExPresso or by direct delivery via e-mail to  Written submissions can be sent to the address below.  Please include a brief abstract and CV or resume with each submission.

Journal of Food Law and Policy
University of Arkansas School of Law
1045 West Maple Street
Fayetteville, AR 72701

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The 2 Percent: America's Million Dollar Farms

One of my summer projects is an update of my book, Food, Farming & Sustainability: Readings in Agricultural Law.  Here is an excerpt that I am working on that ties together some interesting resources that I have been meaning to blog about.

Million-Dollar Farms:  The “2-4 Percent” of Agriculture

Everyone has heard of the economic category of the “1 percent” of Americans – the political rallying point against excessive income disparity in the United States that was most visibly emphasized by Occupy Wall Street and its followers.  A less well known category is the small percentage of U.S. agriculture that owns increasing amounts of land, exercises significant market power, and is responsible for producing the majority of our commercial food stocks.  While some might not like it, we are far more dependent on these mega-farms that most people realize.

USDA data from 2007 indicates that 37 percent of very large family farms and 13 percent of non-family farms have annual sales of $1 million or more. These farms are referred to as the “Million-Dollar farms.”  They made up only 2 percent of all U.S. farms — there were 47,600 million-dollar farms in 2007 —but the USDA reports that they accounted for 53 percent of production. These farms dominated in producing certain high value crops such as vegetables, fruits and tree nuts, nursery and greenhouse products.  They produced approximately 60 to 70 percent of hogs, dairy, poultry, and beef.  Eighty-six percent of these million dollar farms were categorized by USDA as family farms.  See, Robert A. Hoppe & David Banker, Structure and Finances of Family Farms — Family Farm Report 2010 Edition 2, USDA, ERS, Bull. No. 66 (July 2010).

Note that the USDA defines "family farms" without limit to size, value, or business entity, focusing solely on ownership.
[A family farm is] any farm where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator by blood or marriage, including relatives who do not reside in the operator’s household. Nonfamily farms include any farm where the operator and relatives do not own a majority of the business. For example, nonfamily farms include farms operated by publicly held corporations, but also farms equally owned by three unrelated business partners, as well as farms operated by a hired manager for a family of absentee owners.
Analysis of the data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture is just coming out from the USDA.  It reflects an increase in the percentage of Million-Dollar Farms and an increase in their production.  Farms with sales of $1 million or more now constitute 4 percent of all farms, and in 2012, they produced 66 percent of the total value of U.S. production.

Most Million-Dollar farms produce between $1 million and $4,999,999 in annual sales, but 2007 data indicates that 5,200 farms —11 percent of the million dollar farms—have sales of  at least $5 million. These farms produce 35 to 45 percent of beef (largely in feedlots), milk, and high-value crops. Sixty-four percent of these mega-million dollar farms are categorized as family farms.  Id.

See also, Robert Hoppe, Penni Korb, and David E. Banker, Million-Dollar Farms in the New Century, USDA ERS, Bull. No. 42 (Dec. 2008).

Really large scale farming has been in the news of late, providing a face of sorts to these mega-farms. Last April, the New York Times did a feature story on a highly computerized large dairy farm that incorporates robotics, With Farm Robotics, the Cows Decide When It’s Milking Time by Jesse McKinley (Apr, 22, 2014). The upbeat article focused on the technology and how its use provided advantages for both the farmer and his or her cows.  It's an interesting story showcased with this video.

The New York Times article did not explore the costs of the new technology, the size of operation needed to justify the capital expenditures, implications associated with this size of dairy, an increasing need to get cows to produce more milk (to pay for the technology), or the impact on either the dairy industry in general or the rural communities where they are located.

One of these consequences was touched on in a very recent story on National Public Radio, All Things Considered, The Making of Megafarms: A Mixture of Pride and Pain (June 16, 2014). This broadcast told a poignant story about large-scale Midwestern agriculture, farm consolidation, and the impact on rural communities. The story focused on a family farm in Kansas made up of 16,000 acres of land, spread throughout 3 areas in Kansas, hundreds of miles apart. The farmer-owners actually live in the suburbs of Manhattan, Kansas, with management conducted largely by computer.  Where once the land was owned and operated by dozens of smaller family farms who supported the local economy, the entire high-tech operation now is run by the farmer, his father-in-law, and seven employees.

So many issues to discuss and debate.

For those hoping to use the book edits for Fall teaching, we will make arrangements for you to have the materials as a supplement to the book.  Please email me directly for more information, I will keep you updated when the edits are complete,  Susan Schneider.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Graduate Assistantships in Agricultural & Food Law

From the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law:

I am pleased to announce that we have received additional funding for several new graduate assistantships for the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law for the 2014-15 academic year.  These graduate assistantships provide for a full tuition waiver for the 9 month program plus a stipend of $3,000 per semester.  GAs agree to assist with research and projects part-time (usually about 10 hours per week during the semester), gaining valuable experience beyond the classroom.

For over thirty years, we have been educating attorneys in the specialized laws that apply to agriculture, and for the last ten years, we have integrated the study of food law into our curriculum.  We provide a unique opportunity to consider all aspects of our food system -  from traditional farming and ranching to urban agriculture, from agribusiness to farmers markets, from farm subsidies to food assistance, literally from the farm to the table.  We consider consumer, producer, processor, and retailer perspectives.

Our alumni have done well with job placement.  A listing of positions accepted by our recent graduates can be found on our agfoodllm blog.  And, we are proud to have a number of our alumni serving in leadership positions at the USDA. Additional information about our Program and our alumni is available on the blog.

Beginning this fall, the Program includes a new distance option that allows attorneys to attend classes via their desktop computer or tablet, with a complete integration of distance and face-to-face classes. Graduate Assistantships, however, are limited to students who attend face-to-face.

As most of our class is already in place, interested students should contact us ASAP to apply. Competition for the GA positions may be high.  The LL.M. office can be reached at (479) 575-3706; or you can email me ( or email Sarah Hiatt at

Susan Schneider

Monday, May 19, 2014

Local Food Movement & the Quapaw Tribe

KJRH Television of Tulsa, Oklahoma reports the following interesting news:

The Quapaw Tribe is creating an agricultural program that will supply locally grown products for its casino restaurant.

Tribe Chairman John Berrey says the new program will include four greenhouses, which will be used to cultivate vegetables and herbs for the Downstream Casino Resort's Red Oak Steakhouse.

An additional 140 head of cattle will provide meat for the restaurant, and beehives will be used to make honey for salad dressings and sauces.

Berrey says the program will create new jobs for tribal members and add to the economic diversity of the Quapaw Tribe.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Harvesting the Law: Neil Hamilton on Agricultural Legislation

For anyone interested in the development and evolution of agricultural law,  a new thought-provoking article published by Neil Hamilton is a great read.  It's Harvesting the Law: Personal Reflections on Thirty Years of Change in Agricultural Legislation.

Neil has been a law professor focused on agricultural law issues for over thirty years, and a list of the titles of his publications over those years looks like the table of contents of a treatise on emerging agricultural law subjects.  Neil started his legal career working on behalf of farmers during the farm financial crisis of the 1980s and was one of the early leaders in the rebirth of agricultural law as a recognized discipline. His rich historical perspective comes through in an analysis that is both candid and critical.

The article focuses on legislation, a subject that Neil has taught for years at Drake University School of Law, and it examines the development and evolution of agricultural-related legislation in the United States. He classifies the development and focus of agricultural legislation into four distinct but overlapping eras: the traditional development period, the transitional family farm period, the industrial agriculture "Big Ag" period, and the post-industrial food democracy period.  For each period, he examines the role that law plays in promoting the goals and values of the period. His analysis identifies the predictability of legal conflicts between different versions of agriculture, especially during the periods of transition between eras – and identifies several current legal disputes that reflect this ongoing process.

The article also presents observations on the generational differences in students and professors of agricultural and food law.  The influences associated with "when" and "where" people were raised and the type of agricultural they experienced are discussed. One change that is observed - the newer generation of agricultural and food law professors are predominantly female. Another change is that many drawn to the discipline now were not originally tied to the agricultural sector, and they come to the topic through food, nutrition, environmental concerns or other emerging topics such as animal welfare, food access, and farm worker concerns.

The articles uses a legislative analysis to characterize various examples of agricultural legislation in terms of purpose, effectiveness, and who the laws serve.  It categorizes agricultural legislation, giving Neil an opportunity to present his own view of the wisdom and efficacy of each approach.  His categories are thought-provoking and provide a useful framework, even for those who may see the laws differently. His long term perspectives on the industry and attempts to protect it are instructive both for those in the academy and for those considering the future of farming.

The article concludes with examples of important agricultural law topics for future development, issues that are worthy of legislative effort as we work to determine how to sustainably produce the food and fiber we need.

The article provides another example of why agricultural law is a fascinating and challenging area of study and practice.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

LL.M. Program: Agricultural and Food Law Opportunities

I am looking forward to blogging about the robotic milking technology that Jim Chen @chenx064 tweeted about this week, and I will get to that first thing tomorrow.

Today, I'd like to do a brief announcement / recruiting pitch. We have some exciting opportunities for recent law graduates and experienced attorneys who are interested in the subjects we write about in this blog -  agriculture, food, rurality, sustainability, natural resources, and the environment. I am sure that Agricultural Law readers will agree that there are fascinating, important, and incredibly complex issues in this area.

The LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law is pleased to announce an expanded curriculum that includes new courses on emerging issues such as urban agriculture, food justice, and local/regional foods. Changes in the 2014 Farm Bill, including the farm programs, crop insurance, enhanced support for organic agriculture, and the nutrition programs are incorporated throughout our curriculum.

A limited number of Graduate Assistantships are available to LL.M. Candidates who attend the Program face-to-face. These provide for a full tuition waiver plus a small stipend.  As our alumni have learned, Northwest Arkansas is beautiful place to live and study.  Full time, the program takes just two semesters.

For information on agricultural & food law employment opportunities, view the list of jobs that our recent alumni have landed. This list is all the more impressive when you realize that we have admitted only 10-15 students per year.

 We are also excited to launch a distance degree option for our Program beginning Fall 2014. Full, part-time, and non-degree enrollment options are available.
  • The distance option offers full integration with our longstanding face-to-face program. Distance students will have the opportunity to participate in on-campus classes through synchronous videoconferencing. Classroom capture and online exercises will allow participation when video-conferencing is not convenient. 
  • Innovative hybrid courses using a flipped model of instruction will also be available to both face-to-face students and online students. 
  • Our approach to distance education is being guided by the course design and technology professionals at the University of Arkansas Global Campus.  Unlike many other distance programs, ours is run 100% by our university and fully within our careful control. No private, for-profit corporations are involved.
  • Condensed course taught by recognized leaders in the ag & food community will continue to be available to all in an intensive conference-style format. 
For more information, the slideshow Why Study Agricultural & Food Law is helpful.  Our blog, agfoodllm chronicles information about our classes, our students, and our alumni.

And, our new program flyer explains our approach.

Interested attorneys and law students can contact me directly, email the Program at, or call (479) 575-3706.


Susan Schneider

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Dear Food

This short video makes an excellent point, and it makes me even more proud that we have embarked on our Food Recovery Project. For food recovery resources, visit the Food Recovery Project blog or our Food Recovery Project website.

General Mills: We've Listened

Yesterday, General Mills posted an announcement on their website by Kirstie Foster, titled, We’ve Listened – and We’re Changing Our Legal Terms Back.  

Bill Marler blogged about it on Food Safety News with his Publisher’s Platform article, I’m having Cheerios for Breakfast; General Mills Decides to Focus on Food Safety Instead of Litigation.

General Mills had initially announced new legal terms that attempted to force consumers with any type of complaint into commercial arbitration. Consumers would have legally agreed to this limitation on their basic rights to go to court simply by accepting an online coupon from the General Mills website.

The new policy was first reported in the New York Times article, When ‘Liking’ a Brand Online Voids the Right to Sue by Stephanie Strom.  It was picked up by several other media outlets, Bill Marler blogged about it on Food Safety News, General Mills: You Can't Sue Me!, and we posted about it on Agricultural Law,  General Mills: Brilliant Legal Maneuver of the Worst Public Relations Move Ever.

The new policy was short lived.  The consumer backlash and the negative publicity made General Mills reconsider the wisdom of this approach, and as noted by Ms Foster, they rescinded the policy. Saving face, they referred to those who "misread" the policy and misunderstood their attempts to "streamline" the process of resolving complaints.  That said, it was pretty clearly a policy intended to limit the rights of consumers to sue General Mills in court, forcing them into the much more restrictive and industry-friendly commercial arbitration.

I am not a fan of frivolous lawsuits, and I personally think that judges should be more active in dismissing them. But, there is a lot of room to debate frivolity. With an FDA that is overburdened and underfunded, there is often no one "minding the store" on labeling issues. Without the threat of court action, there would be even less incentive for manufacturers to be upfront with their use of claims and promises.

For example, the FDA has consistently refused to define the term "natural" even though it is one that consumers often have relied on in making their purchasing decisions. And, sometimes, those consumers have been shocked to find out what ingredients were used in products labeled as "natural."

Moreover, on its face, the mandatory arbitration clause applied to all manner of claims, "contract, tort, statute, fraud, misrepresentation, or any other legal theory." This would have forced serious food borne illness and even wrongful death claims out of court and into binding arbitration.

As a law professor, I usually view things from the perspective of how we can teach our students to be better lawyers. It seems that this incident may be a great example to use in the classroom.

Being a smart lawyer can be different than being a good lawyer.  It appears that the smart lawyers representing General Mills could have stepped back from their legal analysis to do some practical analysis.  How are our customers going to react to this?  What does this action do to the trust that we have worked so hard to build up? Do we accomplish our legal goal at the expense of our public image? And, finally, is it right to trick our customers into agreeing to something that they do not understand? As Bill Marler noted, they would be better served to put their efforts into making good, honest, healthy and safe products.

Congratulations to General Mills for having the wisdom to call this policy back before any more damage was done to its reputation.  I'll have a bowl of Cheerios as well.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

General Mills: Brilliant Legal Maneuver, or the Worst Public Relations Move Ever

In recent years, there has been a flurry of legislative efforts to protect the image of farm and food products. For example, "ag gag" statutes provide a form of heightened legal protection from potential lawsuits. 

General Mills has taken a different route. It has developed an innovative self-help strategy to lure its customers into signing away any right to sue them.  And, it is causing a stir across the internet.

As explained in the New York Times, April 16, 2014 -  When ‘Liking’ a Brand Online Voids the Right to Sue by Stephanie Strom -  
Might downloading a 50-cent coupon for Cheerios cost you legal rights? 
General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex as well as brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, “join” it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways. 
Instead, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site.
In language added on Tuesday after The New York Times contacted it about the changes, General Mills seemed to go even further, suggesting that buying its products would bind consumers to those terms. 
“We’ve updated our privacy policy,” the company wrote in a thin, gray bar across the top of its home page. “Please note we also have new legal terms which require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration.” 

The General Mills website, with the described language at the top,  is pictured above, and a hotlink is provided for a larger image of the language on the actual website.

University of Arkansas School of Law Professor Christopher Kelley had this response:

Dear General Mills,

I, as a person born in 1947, write to terminate any and all agreements, express or implied, between us save for our agreement set forth in the following paragraph:
We agree that if you use of any information about my consumer purchase preferences, however expressed, including aggregated information about the consumer purchase preferences of persons born in 1947 in which information about my consumer purchase preferences might be included, you will waive any and all claims and defenses, legal and equitable, in any dispute between us until this agreement is terminated by either you or me. You may terminate this agreement at any time by notifying me that you have permanently ceased to use any information about my consumer purchase preferences, however expressed, including aggregated information about the consumer purchase preferences of persons born in 1947 in which information about my consumer purchase preferences might be included. 
To allay any concerns that you might have about this agreement being inimical to your financial interests, I will use my best efforts to avoid any dispute between us by not knowingly purchasing your products.

My regards,


Monday, April 07, 2014

"From the Land of Sky Blue Waters"

I will be curious to hear how many people make a connection with the subject of this post. It was the marketing phrase and song for Minnesota-based Hamms Beer, a classic cheap light beer made by a Minnesota company that was acquired by a string of other companies, with the St. Paul brewery put out of business years ago. 

How does this relate to Agricultural Law?   I was delighted to read what has recently happened to the old Hamms Brewery building in St. Paul.

Here's an excerpt from a fascinating article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and a link to the full story.  It's a story of urban agriculture, urban renewal, sustainability and organic farming, "from the land of sky blue waters."

The same “sky blue waters” that were used to brew Hamm’s beer for more than 100 years now provide a home for thousands of tilapia and sustenance for racks of leafy green vegetables.  
Urban Organics, an aquaponics farm, operates in the six-story stockhouse building of the former Hamm’s brewery complex in east St. Paul.  
Aquaponics is a method of raising fish and vegetables symbiotically. The nutrient-rich wastewater from the fish tanks is used to grow the vegetables hydroponically —“planting” them in water instead of dirt -- and the vegetables purify the water, which is recycled into the fish tanks.  
The company’s vegetables already are available in a handful of Lunds and Byerly’s stores, and the fish may soon be available at local restaurants.  
Urban Organics’ co-founders — Fred Haberman, Chris Ames, Dave Haider and Kristen Haider — were drawn to the location for the same reason Hamm’s was: its water.  
The naturally occurring wells at the site provide their operation with a free source of water, the essential ingredient in aquaponics. And most of the water is recycled. 
The full article provides more details -  At Former Hamms Site, Its the Water - for fish and veggies,  by Nick Woltman, Saint Paul Pioneer Press.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Are You Doing Your Share?

I was simply delighted to find the National Agricultural Library (NAL) collection of War-era Food Posters available online. The physical collection was on display a couple years ago. Beans Were Bullets was an exhibit that "examined the evolution of poster styles, propaganda messages, and advertising history" from the World War I and II periods.

On the website, NAL has the posters divided chronologically and based on the theme of the period, with a helpful Introduction provided.
"Wartime posters in this collection conveyed messages about the vital need for food conservation, rationed goods, meatless and wheatless days, home gardening and canning. 
For farmers, who performed a distinct role on the homefront, posters called attention to the need for increased agricultural output and proper storage methods of surplus grain. Posters also instructed farmers to grow crops in their specific regions to best serve a nation at war.
In addition to these wartime subjects, many of the posters presage food-focused conversations taking place in our culture today. Posters created nearly a century ago suggested food's global significance, recommended eating locally and encouraged personally responsible consumption."
The sections, with direct links are as follows. Each section has a written analysis and a link to the posters.

Whether for historical purposes, for humor, or to further the call to revisit a more local food culture, I encourage all to visit this collection. NAL performs a great service in cataloguing, protecting, and preserving our food and agricultural heritage.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Kara Newman, The Secret Financial Life of Food

Agricultural Law is pleased to have received a copy of Kara Newman, The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets. Columbia University Press describes this breezy, nifty volume in these terms:

The Secret Financial Life of FoodOne morning while reading Barron's, Kara Newman took note of a casual bit of advice offered by famed commodities trader Jim Rogers. "Buy breakfast," he told investors, referring to the increasing value of pork belly and frozen orange juice futures. The statement inspired Newman to take a closer look at agricultural commodities, from the iconic pork belly to the obscure peppercorn and nutmeg. The results of her investigation, recorded in this fascinating history, show how contracts listed on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange can read like a menu and how market behavior can dictate global economic and culinary practice.

The Secret Financial Life of Food reveals the economic pathways that connect food to consumer, unlocking the mysteries behind culinary trends, grocery pricing, and restaurant dining. Newman travels back to the markets of ancient Rome and medieval Europe, where vendors first distinguished between "spot sales" and "sales for delivery." She retraces the storied spice routes of Asia and recounts the spice craze that prompted Christopher Columbus's journey to North America, linking these developments to modern-day India's bustling peppercorn market.

Newman centers her history on the transformation of corn into a ubiquitous commodity and uses oats, wheat, and rye to recast America's westward expansion and the Industrial Revolution. She discusses the effects of such mega-corporations as Starbucks and McDonalds on futures markets and considers burgeoning markets, particularly "super soybeans," which could scramble the landscape of food finance. The ingredients of American power and culture, and the making of the modern world, can be found in the history of food commodities exchange, and Newman connects this unconventional story to the how and why of what we eat.

The story of food, as with so many other things, is the story of its financial origins and the profit-making motivations of the people who supply it. To learn about lunch, you must follow the money.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

An Agricultural Law Jeremiad: The Harvest Is Past, the Summer Is Ended, and Seed Is Not Saved

James Ming Chen, An Agricultural Law Jeremiad: The Harvest Is Past, the Summer Is Ended, and Seed Is Not Saved, 2014 Wisconsin Law Review (forthcoming), available at or

SoybeansThe saving of seed exerts a powerful rhetorical grip on American agricultural law and policy. Simply put, farmers want to save seed. Many farmers, and many of their advocates, believe that saving seed is essential to farming. But it is not. Farmers today often buy seed, just as they buy other agricultural inputs. That way lies the path of economic and technological evolution in agriculture. Seed-saving advocates protest that compelling farmers to buy seed every season effectively subjects them to a form of serfdom. So be it. Intellectual property law concerns the progress of science and the useful arts. Collateral economic and social damage, in the form of affronts to the agrarian ego, is of no valid legal concern. The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and seed is not saved.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rurality as a Dimension of Environmental Justice: Call for Papers

2014 Rural Sociological Society Annual Conference: “Equity, Democracy, and the Commons: Counter-Narratives for Rural Transformation.”

Location: New Orleans, Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria Hotel

Date: July 30th to August 3, 2014

Paper Abstracts due: March 3

Submission: Email abstracts (up to 350-words) to Loka Ashwood ( and Kate Mactavish ( in lieu of an online submission.

Changing community and production dynamics in rural America make it a state-sanctioned site for some of the most hazardous and toxic industries of our time.  From its production treadmill, industrial agriculture has cast onto rural America a plethora of negative externalities:  mounting levels of air and water pollution, farm consolidation, and depopulation.   A range of extraction and other risky industries justify the siting of facilities in rural areas because of easy access to ample natural resources, sparse populations that reduce exposure risk, and the possibility of economic revitalization.  State and federal statutes (e.g., right-to-farm laws, the Federal Code of Regulations for Nuclear Operations) often permit these industries to target rural America based on past practice and low population levels.  

On an international level, cities serve as powerful hubs for the global economy, pulling resources away from less prominent urban and rural areas. The growing periphery within core countries, as well as continued resource extraction of rural places abroad, calls for increased attention to the rural facets of injustice in developed and developing countries.

We invite paper submissions that explore facets of rurality that help explain rural places’ vulnerability to environmental injustices from interdisciplinary perspectives, including (but not limited to) sociology, geography, law, anthropology, public health, and the environmental sciences. We are especially keen to receive papers from scholars working broadly on issues of environmental justice in order to foster conversation between those scholars and scholars whose focus is on rurality more generally.

Select papers from the proceedings and a wider call will be reviewed for potential publication in a special issue being considered by the Journal of Rural Studies.

Confirmed Panelist: Steve Wing, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, University of
North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism.  

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Food Waste: Important Issue Gets Attention

Last year, the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law began the  Food Recovery Project.  The goal of this Project is to raise awareness of two fundamentally irreconcilable problems: the overwhelming waste of food and the persistent problem of hunger in America. The project is designed to provide resources, legal information, and other information that will encourage and support businesses in developing and implementing food recovery programs.

This Project was funded by generous support from The Women’s Giving Circle.  Research Fellow,  James Haley  began the Project by doing a comprehensive study of food recovery and the law and prepared A Legal Guide to The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.  This article, written for attorneys, is published in the University of Arkansas School of Law's online journal, Law Notes.

Visiting Professor Nicole Civita then produced a guide that explains the legal liability protections available to those who donate their food to a non-profit organization.  Food Recovery: A Legal Guide is designed for businesses and organizations.  Both publications are available for free download.

Through the Food Recovery Project, our awareness of food waste and its consequences has been heightened.  We have been gratified to see the issue gaining increasing recognition in the media. It's important no only because of hunger issues, but because of environmental concerns. The USDA and EPA, issuing a joint Food Waste Challenge, report that "Food waste [is] the single largest type of waste entering our landfills" with about 40% of food in the U.S. wasted.

Other groups are also publicizing the problem.
  • The Food Recovery Network unites students at colleges and universities to find ways to prevent food waste in their communities and to recover food for those in need.
The PBS Newshour television broadcast just released the video embedded below, Start-ups, Organizations Take on America's Food Waste Challenge.  It discusses the food waste problem from an environmental perspective and from an economic perspective.  It's an excellent report that emphasizes the opportunities to reduce waste and the economic advantages of doing so.  I recommend it to all -

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Report from the AALS Agricultural & Food Law Session, New York

Melissa Mortazavi, Visiting Assistant Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School kindly agreed to serve as reporter for the educational session of the Agricultural & Food Law Section of the Association of American Law Schools (AALA) Annual Meeting in New York City, January 2-5.  This post is based substantially on her report republished from the Food Law Professors blog.

We had excellent attendance at the section session, despite extremely difficult weather conditions. The panel spoke on teaching food law & policy and integrating food law into law schools' curricula.

Unfortunately, section chair and panel organized, Professor Neil Hamilton, the Dwight D. Opperman Chair of Law and the Director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University Law School and panel member Professor Jay Mitchell, the Director of the Organizations and Transactions Clinic at Stanford Law School were both unable to attend due to the weather conditions.

Panel members who presented were Susan A. Schneider (Director, LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law, University of Arkansas School of Law), Michael Roberts (Executive Director, Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy, UCLA School of Law), and Alli Condra (Fellow, Food Law and Policy Clinic, Harvard Law School).

Initially, the discussion focused on how each of these programs approaches teaching food law and policy, predominately with a focus on connecting laws governing food production with sustainability and public health concerns. Also flagged was the need for more intensive scholarly work regarding the legal framework of food regulation domestically, the racial and socio-economic impacts of food law, and the implications of food and food systems in the context of laws regulating international trade and export.

One consistent thread emerged: food is everything-- meaning every kind of law, in all types of practice-- and the opportunities to explore food law and policy in the law school setting are varied and compelling. Some schools have taken on helping small food related business through providing practical how-to publications or support through their transactional legal services clinics. Some professors teach food law through courses like administrative law where they draw heavily on food related case law and regulations. Others are engaging with international food law through direct services; at Wake Forest, Barbara Lentz led a team of students this month to Nicaragua to help local farmers meet certification requirements for U.S. food imports.

In addition to a lively and energizing discussion, a few follow up points emerged:

Call for Syllabi:

In the Q & A session there was a request to share information and syllabi. Susan Schneider administers a Food Law Professors listserv and the Food Law Professors blog. Professors who teach a food law course, whether survey, seminar, traditional course with a focus on food law, are asked to either post a link to their syllabus or submit it to Professor Schneider for posting.  Similarly, if you are involved in teaching or scholarship in the area of food law & policy and would like to join the listserv, please email Professor Schneider to join.

Upcoming Conferences:  

UCLA’s Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy will be hosting a Food Law Litigation Symposium this April, with dates to TBD.  The Resnick Program also plans to host a larger scale conference on food law in the fall of 2014.  We will keep in touch with Professor Roberts and post updated announcements.

New Association: 

Law professors are in the early stages of forming a Food Law and Policy Association for those who teach and write in this area. This idea was discussed at the Yale Food Policy Symposium, with Emily Broad Lieb, Baylen Linnekin, and Margaret Sova McCabe, along with panel members Michael Roberts and Susan Schneider.  Melissa Mortazavi has agreed to assist in collecting names of those interested.   If you are interested in being a founding member, please email

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Debate Over the King Amendment Grows

The Protect Interstate Commerce Act,  a Farm Bill amendment more commonly known as the "King Amendment" because of its author, Representative Steve King from Iowa, continues to generate controversy.

The King amendment would prevent states from imposing standards on products brought in from other states. It was written to prevent state-enacted humane standards for raising livestock, such as the California law that regulates the size of chicken cages in egg factories. According to the Iowa Egg Council, Iowa leads the nation in egg production, with nearly 60 million laying hens producing nearly 15 billion eggs per year.

Alice Daniel/KQED
The King Amendment has fueled fierce opposition from animal welfare proponents. In addition, however, it is also opposed by those who favor state and local control and who resent any federal preemption of the right of states to legislate.  See, letter from fifteen Republican Congressmen opposing the King Amendment (July 2013) on both counts.

Nevertheless, some in the House, supported by groups representing large-scale animal production continue to push for the amendment. And recently, two top Iowa state officials wrote to Iowa Senator Tom Harkin asking him to support the provision, claiming it was needed in order to protect Iowa's egg industry.

Opponents are pushing back.

Politico reported that Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), one of 41 farm bill conferees, warned that inclusion of the amendment in a farm bill would be a "deal breaker" that forced Democrats to vote against the overall farm bill.

Lauren Bernadett, a California attorney and a candidate in the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law published an excellent editorial on the amendment and its potential consequences in Food Safety News on November 19, 2013.  Her article, Proposed King Amendment Threatens Broad Spectrum of Food Issues raises concerns about the impact of the amendment on a wide range of popular state statutes that apply not only in the context of animal welfare but, food safety and health. She notes that "[t]he practical effects of the King Amendment, if included in the final Farm Bill, would be so far-reaching that it has won the attention of animal-welfare groups, consumer and public-health groups, organic associations, environmental groups, and GMO-labeling advocates."

Most recently, Taimie Bryant, a law professor at UCLA School of Law sent a letter opposing the amendment on behalf of fourteen law professors across the United States. The letter was sent to farm bill conference committee leaders, Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), and Representatives Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).  It provides a thoughtful analysis of the wide-ranging and unintended negative consequences of the broadly written amendment. They argue persuasively that the amendment would apply to a host of health and safety related provisions and essentially tie the hands of state officials who seek to exert influence over food and agricultural products within the state.

The majority of American consumers would like to see common-sense and reasonable animal welfare standards incorporated into livestock production. When livestock is produced outside of such standards, as unfortunately has been the case in a variety of contexts, it leads to citizen action, state initiatives, and legislation. While some in the animal industry blame animal welfare organizations, the fault is most often their own. The conditions within egg factories are the genesis for laws that require additional welfare standards for laying hens.

It would be far more productive for the industry in the long run to work with consumers and with animal welfare advocates to develop reasonable protections for the animals under their care -  to step back from some of the most egregious practices -  rather than lobbying for protective legislation that would preempt all manner of state control.  Many California farmers, even those who initially fought the California law, have discovered that the new standards work well for them, and the hens (and their operations) are doing better.  They oppose the King Amendment as well.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Finally, some law and rural sociology/ag scholarship

For the six years I've attended the Rural Sociological Society's (RSS) Annual Meeting, I've been pressing for the production of more scholarship at the intersection of law and rural livelihoods--and specifically for more attention among rural sociologists to the role of law in the phenomena they study.  So, imagine my delight when I learned at the RSS meeting in August, 2013, of an article forthcoming in Rural Sociology titled, "Where's the Farmer?  Limiting Liability in Midwestern Industrial Hog Production."
Scholars largely assume that hog production is following the same industrialization process as the integrated poultry industry. Since the collapse of hog farming in the 1990s, academics have anticipated that producers will eventually become trapped in contracts that leave the integrator with full control over the production process. Embedded in this prediction is an assumption that hog farmers respond to these productive pressures individually. Our analysis of the Carthage Management System suggests a different path for the hog commodity chain. The Carthage Management System is a conglomeration of business management firms that bring finishing hog farmers together to form limited liability corporations (LLCs) in the breed-to-wean stage of hog production. We use a sociology of agrifood framework to suggest that the nuances of hog production encourage the use of what we call folding corporations to limit liability in ways that profoundly transform the family farm. Corporations and individual hog farmers alike employ this creative LLC structure to deflect responsibility for the risks of hog production. We identify how folding corporations externalize the costs of production onto rural communities. Additional research is needed to better understand unfolding farmer identities, legal protections for farmers, how widespread organizational structures like Carthage Management System are, and their consequences for rural communities and the industrialization process.
The paper's authors are Loka Ashwood, a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin in the Dept. of Community and Environmental Sociology, and Danielle Diamond and Kendall Thu, both of the anthropology department at Northern Illinois University.  I was fortunate enough at RSS 2013 to moderate a panel on which Ashwood presented her paper on "The Moral Economy of Land Loss," and I'm excited by the prospect of future work from a rural sociologist expanding the discipline in exciting cross-disciplinary ways, including by engaging law and legal processes.

Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism.  

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Food Sovereignty and Native American Food Systems

While the local food movement is well recognized in the media and popular culture, a local food/food sovereignty movement has been gaining strength among native tribes in the U.S. without gaining much outside attention.  That is changing.

Pati Martinson and Terrie Bad Hand, Directors of the Taos County Development Corp. (TCEDC) have been working toward a Native American Food Alliance since 2008. That alliance is now a reality. The first meeting was held at the recent First Nations LEAD conference at Mystic Lake Casino and Hotel, Prior Lake, Minnesota. The following Call to Action was adopted.

Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance 
Call to Action 
Restoring Native food systems is an immediate and fundamental need for the continued survival and physical and spiritual wellbeing of Native peoples and our Mother Earth – now and into the future. The costs of doing nothing – and the potential benefits of action – are massive. The Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (NAFSA) is dedicated to restoring the Indigenous food systems that support Indigenous self-determination, wellness, cultures, values, communities, economies, languages, families, and rebuild relationships with the land, water, plants and animals that sustain us. NAFSA brings people, communities (rural, remote and urban), organizations and Tribal governments together to share, promote and support best practices and policies that enhance dynamic Native food systems that promote holistic wellness, sustainable economic development, education, reestablished trade routes, stewardship of land and water resources, peer-to-peer mentoring, and multigenerational empowerment. NAFSA works to put the farmers, wildcrafters, fishers, hunters, ranchers and eaters at the center of decision-making on policies, strategies and natural resource management. We commit to take collective and individual action to address food sovereignty, and to build the necessary understanding and awareness among our Peoples, Nations, leaders and policy-makers, as well as our youth and coming generations, to make it a continuing reality.
The issue of Food Sovereignty from a tribal perspective was recently the subject of an interview with A'dae Romero (Cochiti Pueblo/Kiowa) on the radio show, What's for Dinner with Susan Youmnas.  A'dae is currently a candidate in the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law. She works with the Indigenous Food & Agriculture Initiative at the Law School under the guidance of Janie Hipp (Chickasaw), the former Senior Advisor for Tribal Relations to USDA Secretary Vilsack, and now the Director of the Initiative. A'dae founded and serves as the Executive Director of Cochiti Youth Experience, Inc., a non-profit organization formed to create opportunities for Cochiti youth to engage in traditional Pueblo farming as a means to create a healthy, sustainable, and viable community.

Food, agriculture and the issue of food sovereignty represent rising movements in Indian Country. Stay tuned -

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Harsh Reality: The Impact of the Government Shutdown on Food Assistance

Last week, in the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law, we received a request for information about the impact of the government shutdown on women and children who rely on food assistance.  I asked Erin Shirl, an attorney in our Program, to reply.  The information that she reported was so important and so well researched, that I asked her to prepare it for Agricultural Law.  Erin's report follows, and her bio and contact information can be found at the conclusion of this post. 

Approximately 49 million Americans struggle with food insecurity. The most recently released USDA statistics place 7 million Americans in the "very low food security" tier; this means that "at times during the year, the food intake of household members was reduced and their normal eating patterns were disrupted because the household lacked money and other resources for food." A frightening ninety-nine percent of those 7 million Americans reported that they worried food would be gone before they had money to buy more, even though many food insecure Americans participate in one or more federal food assistance programs, like SNAP, WIC, or the school lunch programs.

In the wake of our federal government's shutdown crisis, those 7 million Americans will have a more difficult time obtaining food, a problem USDA and the states are almost powerless to solve. Though national media outlets have attempted to profile this problem since the shutdown began, many news sources have frequently left out an important piece of the food assistance puzzle, federal Commodity Assistance Programs, which will lack funding entirely until the federal government finally resumes normal operations. This post attempts to fill that void by profiling some of the key food assistance programs jeopardized by the shutdown, briefly touching on the interplay between them, and explaining how and why they matter to their participants.

Commodity Assistance Programs (CAP)

Media coverage immediately after the shutdown focused on the potential loss of WIC funding while the federal government is out of business. WIC is undeniably a vital program for the 9 million food insecure Americans who depend on it.
Government Shutdown: 9 Million Moms and Babies at Risk (Forbes)
Government Shutdown Jeopardizes WIC Program (Huffington Post)
Shutdown threatens nutrition for mothers, children (CNN Money)
Poor moms fear loss of subsidized infant formula if government shutdown drags on (Washington Post)
WIC support for moms and babies threatened during shutdown (CBS News)

However, the Commodity Assistance Programs have been largely left out of the discussion in major media outlets. This is an unfortunate oversight: these programs and their participants are in a much more immediately dire situation.

Where WIC and SNAP provide food insecure Americans with checks, vouchers, or EBT cards to be used for the purchase of food, the programs that fall into the CAP category instead provide assistance more directly in the form of food packages. For Americans who live in remote or rural areas where SNAP and WIC vendors may not be available, the CAPs may be only source of food assistance from the government. These programs have been increasingly crucial in feeding Americans since the recession began. They have helped private and non-profit food banks restore dwindling food stocks, and they are instrumental in providing food aid to food insecure Americans.  Commodity Assistance Programs are all entirely without funding in the wake of the shutdown.

USDA's contingency plan for the shutdown expressly states, "[w]hile there would be some inventory
available for use in food packages, no carryover, contingency or other funds would be available to support continued operations."

The following summary profiles three critical programs impacted by the shutdown.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) provides non-perishable food to all fifty states based on each state's levels of low-income and unemployed citizens. In FY 2012, this program delivered 723 million pounds of food to the states to support hungry Americans. USDA, through Congressional appropriation, pays for all major costs associated with the program, including the processing, packing, and shipping of food to states. USDA also pays for some administrative costs.
USDA currently has no funds available to support any of those activities.  While the government's doors remain closed, there will be no more deliveries of food to states from TEFAP. What food remains in state inventories may be used in the interim, but for the many smaller food banks that rely heavily or exclusively on TEFAP products to feed their community members, a lengthy shutdown could mean closing their doors or delivering less food to their communities.

The largest feeding charity in America, Feeding America, supplies food to just under 80% of the country's food banks; TEFAP food went to 54% of Feeding America food banks in 2009. If TEFAP is not operational, this will put a strain on charitable organizations, and in turn, on hungry Americans.

Note that TEFAP-partnered food banks can help serve food insecure Americans who live in food deserts and cannot access vendors that might serve SNAP or WIC participants; USDA data suggest approximately one-fifth of TEFAP participants do not rely on any other federal food assistance program, and are more likely to live in very low food security in addition to confronting other problems of poverty, including homelessness and other material hardship. For the remaining four-fifths of TEFAP participants, TEFAP remains a vital source of food to supplement their diets when SNAP or WIC funds do not last through the month. However, without a supply of food from the federal government, it will become difficult, if not completely impossible, for local food banks to keep up. It is crucial that funding for this program be restored.

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program  (CSFP) serves new and soon-to-be mothers, children under the age of five, and Americans over the age of sixty. Much like TEFAP, it provides USDA food to qualifying participants by delivering food to state agencies, who distribute it on the local level through public and private organizations. Unfortunately, also like TEFAP, this program is currently without funding. Food resources available will be limited to what is currently in inventory at food banks. Some states may be able to find funding to run this program in the interim, but the shutdown has put a lot of pressure on states to find room in their budgets to accommodate multiple unfunded programs. States will simply not be able to fund every program without renewed federal assistance, and food insecure Americans, like the people served by CFSP, will suffer the consequences.

Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) provides food to low-income households, either on-reservation or to certain American Indian households off-reservation, depending on location. Participants cannot receive food from FDPIR if they participate in SNAP in the same month.  Many participants in FDPIR choose this program over SNAP because they live in remote areas where SNAP vendors (i.e., grocery stores) either do not exist or are not accessible.

Two-hundred and seventy-six (276) of the 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States participate in FDPIR. In FY 2012, USDA reported that 76,530 participated on average monthly in FDPIR. Without funding for FDPIR, these participants do not have access to this source of food. In some situations, especially for participants who live in very remote areas where the only sources of food are government-operated, it is likely that they do not have access to any reliable source of food without this program.

These programs, and more importantly the lives of the hungry Americans who depend upon them, will remain in jeopardy until the federal government resumes normal operations.

Even when the shutdown ends, there may yet be cause for concern: Congress has repeatedly battled over funding for food assistance programs over the last two years, and that includes cutting the money provided for these programs. This will have devastating effects on Americans at the lowest levels of food security.

With SNAP benefits set to decrease in November (discussed below), CAPs may be put under even more strain as SNAP beneficiaries look for ways to supplement their already inadequate food supplies.

Women, Infants, & Children (WIC)

WIC serves 9 million American women, infants, and children. WIC participation has been associated with a variety of positive outcomes, including but not limited to: improving both the mental and physical health of participants, increasing the likelihood that children will receive vaccinations, decreasing instances of child abuse and neglect, reducing anemia, improving overall diets, and encouraging pregnant women to stop smoking.

When the shutdown went into effect on 1 October, various national news sources reported that WIC was not likely to last more than a few weeks, or even days. Those reports, based on USDA's initial speculation, understandably caused panic and outrage.  Fortunately, thanks to contingency funds, Secretary Vilsack and USDA have ensured that states can continue to support current WIC participants and pay WIC vendors through the end of October. USDA has authorized the use of contingency and carryover funds to keep this program running in all fifty states until the end of this month.

This does not mean WIC participants have been unaffected by the shutdown, especially those who live in states whose offices closed their doors before USDA issued the notice about contingency funds, or those who WIC vendors turned away post-shutdown because they assumed they would not be reimbursed.

Most recently, North Carolina announced that it does not have the funds to issue any further WIC vouchers for the month of October, leaving an estimated 20% of North Carolina WIC participants without their vouchers in the absence of renewed federal funding.

On 4 October, shortly before adjourning for the weekend, the House passed legislation, H.J. Res. 75  that would fund WIC through FY 2014. It has been placed on the Senate's calendar, where it is likely to remain until its eventual demise; both the Senate and the President have been unwilling to consider similar piecemeal legislation thus far.   The National WIC Association, a non-profit policy group that advocates for WIC participants, also opposes this legislation. The bill will either fail or remain dormant in the Senate. Even if H.J. Res. 75 somehow did become law, it would still only appropriate funds for WIC through 15 December, a week before Congress typically adjourns for winter holidays. This would potentially set us up for another WIC-related showdown, but this time during the winter holiday season, when food banks typically experience increased demand.

The WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) , which is run alongside the overall WIC program, provides a source of fresh fruit and vegetables, all from local growers, to WIC participants. It also provides food to those on a waiting list to receive WIC benefits.

According to a 2010 GAO Report, 46 state agencies participate in this program, which serves 2.2 million women, infants, and children. Although WIC will remain operational until the end of the month, the WIC FMNP has no funding presently, depriving participants of this source of healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

SNAP, previously known as “Food Stamps,” is the most crucial of all federal domestic food assistance programs. Not only does it feed more Americans than any other federal program-- 42% of food insecure households in FY 2012 participated in SNAP-- but programs associated with SNAP also provide other benefits, like job training, to program participants. SNAP is an appropriated entitlement program. This means that although it falls into the category of mandatory Congressional spending, annual appropriations must fund it.

The USDA is currently relying on a broad interpretation of the Recovery Act to help states fund SNAP through October. The Recovery Act, Sec. 101 (f) authorizes USDA to spend “such sums as are necessary” to administer the act's temporary increase in benefits to SNAP participants; using this language, USDA's contingency shutdown plan authorizes continued payments.

SNAP funding increased during the recession when Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and as noted, USDA is keeping SNAP running through October because of that law.

After October, whether the shutdown is over or not, SNAP's status becomes more tenuous, thanks to the passage of P.L. 111-296 which accelerated the timeline for the end of Recovery Act funds. Even if the shutdown ends by 1 November, SNAP recipients will still see an automatic cut in their benefits as a result of this expiration. The average daily allowance for SNAP benefits in 2010 was $4.30/person per day which is already a bare bones allowance. SNAP benefits do not usually last for an entire month even at present levels , and cutting funding will only hurt food insecure Americans and increase reliance on other programs.

According to USDA's shutdown plan, contingency funding in the amount of $2 billion total will be available to help states with administering SNAP after October. However, that is a fraction of the cost per month of administering the program: the state of Texas alone delivered $6 billion in benefits to its citizens  in 2012. Spreading $2 billion across the entire country simply will not be possible.

SNAP’s satellite programs, like SNAP Employment & Training, are already imperiled due to the shutdown. The operational ability of this arm of SNAP during the shutdown depends entirely upon each individual state's budgetary constraints. In states that have not waived SNAP's job program requirement, this could have disastrous consequences for participants who are complying with the letter of the law: they could lose their ability to obtain food through SNAP. If that happens, where will they turn? Again, food banks and shelters would seem a logical alternative, once more placing an enhanced burden on charities, many of which are likely aided in their hunger relief efforts by presently defunct commodities programs like TEFAP.


Our food assistance programs and the participants that depend upon them are highly interconnected. A change in one program will necessarily affect another, and will have consequences for 17.6 million food insecure American households. USDA data from 2008 showed that of low-income households with low or very low food security, 12% participated in both SNAP and WIC in order to feed their families. Recent data from 2012 shows that 51.8% of SNAP participants are food insecure, and 39.5% of WIC recipients are food insecure. Even with fully operational food assistance programs, these families are struggling.

With a reduction in SNAP benefits looming in November and WIC's operational status in question after October if the shutdown continues, those families will need alternative sources of food, potentially putting more pressure on already strapped food banks. Private charitable feeding operations-- to the extent that they are truly private and do not receive food products from federal programs like TEFAP-- lack the infrastructure to fill the gap and feed food insecure Americans while the government idles.

Without the federal government's renewed support, millions of Americans will see a reduction in food availability. This has consequences for these Americans that extend beyond the physical: food insecurity takes a psychological toll on those who experience it, and every day that the shutdown continues is another day in which we ask 7 million Americans to live suffer the fear and anxiety that accompanies unreliable access to a basic necessity for life.

This presents a compelling argument for the federal government to resume operations as soon as possible to avoid further disruption to the daily lives of the people who depend on these programs.
Editor's Note: Though USDA materials would have been the most relevant sources for much of the information in this post, they are currently inaccessible online due to the shutdown. Where possible, the author has tried to provide alternate hosts for USDA white papers, statistical data, and critical data unavailable online presently.  This raises another issue -  critical information about food assistance programs for hungry Americans who might be seeking it is often unavailable, as many state websites and other sites such as, often link directly to FNS "for more information."  FNS is unavailable due to the shut down. 
Erin Shirl is a candidate in the LL.M. Program in Agricultural and Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law, where she received her J.D. in 2011; she also holds a B.A. (Political Science/ Russian Language) from Ouachita Baptist University, where she graduated magna cum laude as the Outstanding Graduate in Political Science. Erin is presently working on compiling a comprehensive legislative history of major federal food assistance programs in the United States, and is particularly interested in tracking American attitudes about food security over time. Prior to attending the LL.M. Program, Erin served as a Staff Attorney and Research Coordinator for the National Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform. She is admitted to practice law in the state of Arkansas.

Erin can be reached at She's on Twitter at @erinshirl.