Written by M. Sean High – Staff Attorney
The following information is an update of recent, local, state, national, and international legal developments relevant to agriculture:
GE Crops: APHIS Publishes Notice of Intent to Deregulate Monsanto GE Maize
On February 17, 2016, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) published notice in the Federal Register regarding Monsanto Co.’s request to deregulate genetically engineered (GE) maize designated as event MON 87419. According to the published notice, “APHIS has determined that maize designated as event MON 87419 is unlikely to pose a plant pest risk” and as a result, APHIS has made “a preliminary determination of nonregulated status of maize designated as event MON 87419.” Comments on the published notice will be received for 30 days from the date of publishing in the Federal Register.
Raw Milk: FDA Announces Reevaluation of Testing of Raw Milk Cheese
On February 8, 2016, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a press release announcing that FDA will reevaluate the testing of raw milk cheese for non-toxigenic E. coli. The press release stated that FDA was responding to concerns raised by cheese makers “suggesting that the FDA is applying safety criteria that may, in effect, limit the production of raw milk cheese without demonstrably benefiting public health.” According to the press release, FDA “will continue to inspect cheese-making facilities and test for pathogens in domestic and imported cheese but, in the meantime, FDA is in the process of pausing its testing program for non-toxigenic E. coli in cheese.”
Labeling: Court Affirms Federal Authority over Meat and Poultry Labeling
On February 12, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling that California was barred from “enforcement of California’s statutory prohibition against nonfunctional slack fill (i.e., empty space between a product and its packaging that serves none of a list of specified purposes)…as applied to meat and poultry products” (Case No. 13-16893). The Court held that “California’s nonfunctional slack fill provisions…are expressly preempted by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (“FMIA”) and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (“PPIA”)” and that “Congress intended to allow meat and poultry packaging to be subject to less specific regulation than other types of product packaging.”
Labor: Class Action Brought Against Meat Processor over Employment of Illegal Workers
On February 16, 2016, a class action lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of India on behalf of hourly-paid production workers at the Indiana Packers Company’s (IPC) meat processing facility (Case No. 4:16-cv-00015-JD-JEM). The class action lawsuit was brought pursuant to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and alleged that IPC engaged in “a scheme to employ vast numbers of illegal immigrants at the plant [in an effort] to depress wages.” According to the filed complaint, IPC carried out its “scheme” by knowingly hiring illegal workers and making false attestations on I-9 Forms that the illegal workers were authorized for employment in the United States.
SNAP: USDA Proposes Rule to Require Healthier Choices
On February 17, 2016, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register “to make changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) regulations pertaining to the eligibility of SNAP retail food stores.” According to the proposed rule, SNAP-authorized retailer food stores will be required to stock a wide variety of healthy foods so that SNAP program recipients will be provided with increased access to healthy food options. Comments on the proposed rule will be received for 60 days from the date of publishing in the Federal Register.