Friday, August 28, 2015

Organic Advocacy Group Sues USDA

Written by Stephen Kenney

On August 25, 2015, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed suit against the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  CFS sought records from APHIS related to the proposed Plant Protection Act Regulations.  CFS requested in its complaint that the court order APHIS to disclose all the non-exempt records that CFS requested. CFS is a non-profit entity that advocates for and promotes organic and similar types of agriculture production.  APHIS is tasked with regulating genetically engineered organisms which it does under the Plant Protection Act.

CFS alleged in the complaint that APHIS has routinely violated FOIA when CFS has requested information regarding APHIS’s oversight of GE crops.  In addition to the disclosure of the requested documents, CFS seeks a court declaration that APHIS has a pattern of failing to timely respond to CFS’s FOIA requests and to order APHIS to make amendments to its FOIA Handbooks and procedures to ensure compliance with FOIA in the future.

APHIS published its proposed updated GE crop regulations in 2008.  The proposal was officially withdrawn on March 4, 2015.  CFS made a FOIA request about the decision when the group first learned that APHIS was planning to withdraw the proposed updated GE regulations in December 2014.  Nine months later, CFS had not received any records from APHIS.  CFS claimed that this is not an isolated incident and that it has made dozens of FOIA requests to APHIS regarding the regulation of GE crops since 2002.  CFS further claimed that APHIS had failed to respond timely to twenty-nine of those claims.  

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Leading Agricultural Corporations Approve Merger

Written by Tyler R. Etter

On August 24, 2015, the owners of United Suppliers, Inc. and Land O’Lakes Inc. agreed to the merger of the two corporations. United Suppliers will merge with Land O’Lakes’ crop inputs business. According to the press release, the aim of the merger is to “create a single, relevant and competitive system of independent agricultural retailers.”

Land O’Lakes is a leading member-owned cooperative, with operations spanning from farm production to consumer foods. The company conducts business in all 50 states, and in over 60 countries. United Suppliers is a customer-owned wholesale supplier of crop protection inputs, seed, and crop nutrients. The company is comprised of 600 dealers operating 2,800 retail locations.

Chris Policinski, President and CEO of Land O’Lakes, stated that the merger will allow both companies to continue to meet consumer needs, while combining their resources to better compete in an environment of “consolidating suppliers and competitors.” The first step of the merger will bring the seed and crop protection operations of United Suppliers and Land O’Lakes’ WinField US, LLC. Following this, the two companies’ crop nutrient businesses will merge.

Customers are anticipated to benefit from expanded product offers, enhance services, tools, technologies, improved product insight, consulting, and more.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

APHIS Issues Draft Mass Carcass Management Policy

Written by Katharine Richter

On August 14, 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) titled, “Carcass Management During a Mass Animal Health Emergency.”

The draft EIS was created to help “APHIS [] effectively manage livestock carcasses in a mass animal health emergency to reduce potential risks to humans, animal, and environmental health.”
APHIS presents three options on handling animal carcasses which are labelled as no action alternative, standard procedures alternative, and adaptive management alternative.  Under the no action alternative, APHIS would continue handling the carcasses using either “unlined burial or open-air burning.”  Under the standard procedures alternative, APHIS would allow four additional disposal options than the no action option.  The additional options would be “…composting, rendering, landfills compliant with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and/or fixed-facility incineration…”  The final option is the adaptive management alternative which would allow “all available carcass management options to be considered and potentially used during a mass animal health emergency.”

The draft EIS analyzes each of these approaches potential environmental impact in regards to a variety of topics including soil quality, air quality, water quality, vegetation and human health.  Although this draft was created before the 2014 outbreak of HPAI, it will impact how potential future outbreaks are handled.  The draft EIS comment period will be open to the public for 60 days.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Seafood Processor Sentenced for Fraud

Written by Tyler R. Etter

On August 11, 2015, Alphin Brothers Inc., a North Carolina seafood processor, was sentenced in federal court for falsely labeling imported shrimp. The sentencing follows a plea agreement made on February 10, 2015, where Alphin Brothers plead guilty to one count of making or submitting false records, a violation of the Lacey Act.

According to court documents, the company directed employees and another processing facility to label approximately 25,000 pounds of farm-raised, imported shrimp as a wild-caught “product of the United States.” The mislabeling is against the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations of the United States. The Lacey Act makes it illegal to “make or submit any false record, account, or label for...any fish or wildlife...intended to be imported, transported, purchased or received from any foreign country, or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.”

The company will have to pay a criminal fine of $100,000, as well as forfeit 21,450 pounds of shrimp. Further, the company will serve three years of probation, and be required to implement a training program to educate employees on federal labeling requirements.

Lisa Weddig, Secretary of the Better Seafood Bureau (BSB), commented on the case, stating “This case is an example of coordinated law enforcement, both state and federal, working together with the tools they already have to crack down on fish fraud.” Weddig emphasized the use of the pre-existing Lacey Act and coordination to show that enforcement and punishing these crimes do not require new laws or regulations.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Concerns Over Avian Flu Leads to Revised Poultry Transportation Standards

Written by Katharine Richter

Acting under authority granted by the Domestic Animal Law (3 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 2301—2389) the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has issued an Interstate and General Quarantine Order focused on addressing the spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).  The order was published in the PA Bulletin on Saturday, August 22 and specifically targets the H5N2 and H5N8 strains of the disease which, according to the order, “have developed into a virulent form of the disease . . . [and] are easily spread, and may mutate into strains that are communicable to or among humans.”

The quarantine order applies to the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and encompasses chicken, turkey and numerous species of game birds such as doves, pheasants, and grouse, as well as “all . . . waterfowl and any other species of bird . . . that may contract or harbor Avian Influenza virus.”

The quarantine order requires that any “conveyance[s], vehicle[s], container[s], and material[s]” used to transport any of the affected species into or within the Commonwealth must be cleaned and disinfected.  In the case of vehicles and conveyances the mandate requires the use of commercial truck washing equipment or its equivalent and extends to the inside of the cab, specifically including the “inside floor boards and pedals” must be cleaned.

The owner or operator must retain proof of cleaning for one month after the cleaning occurs.  The order specifies that “A receipt from a commercial truck washing operation or documentation of the place and type of equivalent equipment utilized showing the date and time” the cleaning occurred must be available for inspection by the Department of Agriculture or the Pennsylvania State Police.

The order became effective on its publication in the PA Bulletin.

APHIS Updates HPAI Documents

Written by M. Sean High

In an effort to more efficiently respond to possible outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has recently issued updates to many of the department’s foreign animal disease preparedness and response plan materials (FAD PReP).  Of particular interest to poultry owners will likely be the newly streamlined procedures regarding appraisal and indemnity. 

According to the document titled Appraisal & Indemnity Procedures and dated August 19, 2015, “[t]he best practices to contain and eradicate [HPAI] by ‘stamping-out’ within 24 hours of detection will require rapid depopulation, appraisal, and indemnity procedures.” To accomplish these goals, state animal health officials and APHIS are no longer required to wait for a positive HPAI test result prior to authorizing depopulation.  Instead, these officials may now approve depopulation when HPAI is suspected.
Additionally, poultry owners are no longer required to have a signed flock plan prior to receiving indemnity payments.  A flock plan, however, will still be required if a poultry owner will is seeking APHIS disposal assistance or APHIS cleaning and disinfection assistance.

It is important to note that all APHIS FAD PReP materials are subject to change.  As a result, interested individuals should always consult the FAD PReP Materials andReferences webpage for the latest department revisions.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Study Indicates COOL Influences Customer Decisions

Written by Katharine Richter
 In a study conducted by the University of Arkansas, Department of Marketing, it was concluded that country-of-origin labeling (COOL) did exert influence on consumer decisions when purchasing meat products.

According to the study, customers were more likely to purchase meat labeled as a product of the United States.  According to a press release from the National Farmers Union (NFU), “Opponents of COOL have argued that it has no impact on consumers’ purchasing decisions.  This study clearly shows the opposite: that consumers use COOL to draw inferences related to a food product’s safety, taste and freshness.” 

The NFU is advocating for Congress to not repeal COOL and “continue to provide consumers with information they use to make informed decisions about what they eat.”  The House of Representatives, on June 10, 2015, passed a bill repealing COOL regulations on beef, chicken and pork and the Senate is proposing alternative programs to COOL, such as a voluntary “Product of the U.S. Label.”