Thursday, May 21, 2015

House Passes Legislation to Prevent Waters of the U.S. Rule

On May 12, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015 (H.R. 1732) by a vote of 261 to 155.  Introduced by Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster, the proposed legislation would prevent the implementation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) recently proposed rule regarding the Waters of the United States, and require that USACE develop a new rule. 

A central issue for many of the supporters of the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act is a concern that USACE’s currently proposed rule would dramatically expand the Clean Water Act to provide the Environmental Protection Agency with the power to regulate vast numbers of agricultural fields and ditches. 

The House of Representatives passed similar legislation on September 9, 2014 (H.R. 5078), however, the bill stalled in the Senate.  Significantly, the Obama administration has threatened to veto the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act if it were to reach the President’s desk.   
Written by M. Sean High - Staff Attorney
Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center
May 21, 2015

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

SunOpta Inc., First to Receive USDA Non-GMO Certification

On May 18, 2015, SunOpta Inc., a “company specializing in the sourcing, processing and packaging of natural, organic and specialty food products” announced that it has become the first United States food manufacturer to receive verification under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Process Verified Program (PVP) for non-Genetically Modified (GMO) products.  As a result of receiving this verification, SunOpta, Inc. is now permitted to market specifically approved products as non-GMO. 

PVP is instituted by the federal government as a way for agribusinesses to assure customers of the quality of services and products provided.  By submitting to USDA’s verification methods, agricultural products that attain PVP approval are permitted to be marketed as “USDA Process Verified.”  Importantly, approved products are allowed to bear the official “USDA Process Verified” shield and term.

While PVP is a well-established program, a system for verification regarding of non-GMO products had not previously existed.  Responding to market demand, SunOpta, Inc. voluntarily approached USDA and requested a method of formal review.  As a result of SunOpta, Inc.’s action, other agricultural companies will now have the ability to submit to PVP procedures and work towards non-GMO verification.  
Written by M. Sean High - Staff Attorney
Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center
May 20, 2015

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Labeling of Mechanically Tenderized Beef

On May 13, 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new labeling requirement for beef products that have been mechanically tenderized. 

Often called “blading” or “needling,” the practice of mechanical tenderization involves the insertion of a series of razor sharp knives or needles into a piece of beef in an effort to cut through tough connective tissue.   While this process creates a tender piece of meat, it also increases the possibility that food-borne pathogens like E. coli could be pressed deep into the center of the meat.   
Fortunately, food-borne pathogens such as E. coli can be killed through cooking beef above certain temperaturesUnfortunately, because the process of mechanical tenderization could push these pathogens into the center of a piece of meat, for safe consumption, it may be necessary to employ different cooking methods.  As a result, effective May 2016, USDA will require that all mechanically tenderized beef products carry labels that 1) state that the product is mechanically tenderized and 2) provide the proper instructions on how to safely  cook the product.
Written by M. Sean High - Staff Attorney
Agricultural Law Center
May 19, 2015

Monday, May 18, 2015

USDA Receives Petition for Organic Check-off Program

On May 12, 2015, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) submitted a formal petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requesting the establishment of an organic check-off program. 

Check-off programs are intended to provide specific agricultural industries with a method for furthering promotion and research.  Federally legislated and monitored by USDA, check-off programs are requested, administered, and funded by each specific industry.  Currently, check-off programs exist for the beef, pork, eggs, soybeans, sorghum, and lamb industries.   

According to OTA, an organic check-off program is necessary because many consumers are confused regarding the differences between organic, all natural, and non GMO products.  A check-off program would provide a way for the organic industry to clarify these differences and promote the organic brand.  Furthermore, OTA cites a need to provide the organic industry with research regarding pest management solutions.   

Under OTA’s proposed check-off plan, all organic producers generating $250,000 or more in annual gross organic revenue would automatically be enrolled in the program.  Producers generating less than $250,000 in annual gross organic revenue would have the ability to voluntarily opt into the program.  The program is to be funded through the collection of assessment fees charged to organic producers, organic handlers, and organic importers. 

OTA acknowledges that the main opposition to the organic check-off program is found within the organic community.  Much of this opposition results from a concern that the program will only help large scale organic producers at the expense of small family farms.
Written by M. Sean High - Staff Attorney
Agricultural Resource and Reference Center
May 18, 2015


Friday, May 15, 2015

USDA Allegedly Creates GMO Labeling Program

On May 14, 2015 the Associated Press (AP) reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed a voluntary certification and labeling program for companies desiring to market their food products as free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  According to AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick, the proposed program will establish testing and verification methods to determine whether a company’s food products contain GMOs.  Jalonick asserted that under the program, if USDA determines that a specific food product does not contain GMOs, that food product will be permitted to be labeled as both GMO free and “USDA Process Verified.” Furthermore, Jalonick stated that the labeling program will be voluntary and funded solely by the participating companies.

According to Jalonick, information regarding the proposed GMO labeling program was detailed in an internal USDA letter, issued by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on May 1, 2015, and sent to USDA employees.  Jalonick claimed that AP had obtained a copy of the letter in questioned.  Nevertheless, at the time of this post, USDA has not made an official statement regarding the alleged GMO labeling program.
To read the entire AP article regarding the alleged USDA GMO labeling program, please click here.

Written by M. Sean High - Staff Attorney
Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center
May 15, 2015

Monday, December 2, 2013

Canadian Department of Environment Will Allow for Sale of GE Salmon Eggs

On November 23, 2013, the Canadian Department of the Environment released a Significant New Activity Notice that, as long as the specified requirements under the Notice are met, companies can sell genetically engineered (GE) salmon eggs to hatcheries and other buyers. The Significant New Activity Notice is not an endorsement of the product, however, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada still need to approve the GE eggs before they can be sold. According to press releases, the FDA is expected to give its approval based on previous statements concerning the lack of environmental impact of AquaBounty’s GE fish. AquaBounty is the producer of AquAdvantage GE salmon eggs and fish in Canada. AquaBounty also owns the only GE salmon growing facility in the world so far.

For more information on AquaBounty and their product, AquAdvantage, please see their website.

Written by Sarah L. Doyle - Research Assistant
The Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center
December 2, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

COOL Six Month Industry Educational “Grace Period” Concludes

On November 23, 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Marketing Service Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) six month industry education and outreach program established within the 2013 Final Rule has concluded. The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) conducted the program, as well as similar programs after the release of the 2008 Interim Final Rule and the 2009 Final Rule. The program was a constructive grace period to allow industries to assimilate to the new rule without penalty. AMS determined that this program would ensure that the industries effectively and rationally implement the final rule. Additionally, AMS is allowing the existing stock of muscle cut covered commodities processed and labeled before May 23, 2013 to clear the system as long as they are already in the market and in compliance with the 2009 COOL rule. AMS hopes that these provisions will “prevent retailer and supplier confusion and help alleviate some of the economic burden on regulated entities.” Lastly, AMS will allow products to be sold with less specific origin information as long as retail establishments provide the more specific information via other means such as signs. This method of informing consumers will be allowed until existing labeling and packaging materials have been completely used. For more information about COOL and the grace periods and exceptions that are in place, please see the Federal Register.

The COOL rule became mandatory on May 23, 2013, and requires retailers to label muscle cut covered commodities, some seafood, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, some nuts, and ginseng with information regarding the source of the product.

For more information about COOL, please see our previous blog post
Written by Sarah L. Doyle - Research Assistant
The Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center
November 25, 2013