Thursday, March 31, 2016

Agricultural Law Weekly Review—March 31, 2016

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:

Water: Study Says Agriculture Needs to do more to Reduce Phosphorous in Lake Erie
On March 22, 2016, the University of Michigan announced the release of a computer modeling study which concluded that phosphorus runoff from farms, particularly those in the “heavily agricultural Maumee River watershed,” has led to harmful algae blooms in Lake Erie.  According to the press release, to combat this issue, the study recommended the “require[d] widespread use of strong fertilizer-management practices, significant conversion of cropland to grassland and more targeted conservation efforts.” Disputing the results of the study, the industry group Agricultural Leaders of Michigan stated that the study “relies on data that is more than 15 years old…ignores consistent decreases in phosphorus applications by Michigan agriculture in recent years..[and] assumes that farmers and growers today use the same methods that we used decades ago.” Relatedly, on March 28, 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $41 million initiative to help Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana farmers implement conservation measures so as to reduce runoff in the Western Lake Erie Basin waterways.

Labor: California Reaches Agreement to Raise Minimum Wage
On March 28, 2016, California Governor Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown issued a press release announcing that an agreement had been reached to raise the state’s minimum wage rate to $15 an hour.  According to the press release, “[u]nder the plan, minimum wage will rise to $10.50 per hour on January 1, 2017 for businesses with 26 or more employees, and then rises each year until reaching $15 per hour in 2022.” According to the Governor, employers with 25 or fewer employees will be allowed additional time “to phase in the increases.” Finally, the press release stated that “[o]nce the minimum wage reaches $15 per hour for all businesses, wages could then be increased each year up to 3.5 percent (rounded to the nearest 10 cents) for inflation as measured by the national Consumer Price Index.”

Antibiotics: Advisory Council to Meet and Vote on Antibiotic Use in Food Animals
On March 30-31, 2016, the Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (PACCARB) was scheduled to hold a public meeting to deliberate and vote on the findings and recommendations of PACCARB’s working groups'.  Slated for deliberation and vote was Draft Report 1: Initial Assessment of the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistance Bacteria, a document which provides recommendations regarding antibiotic use in food animals.  According to Draft Report I, efforts should be made to: 1)”Work toward consensus processes for establishing metrics for the appropriateness of antibiotic use, especially antibiotics used for preventative purposes;” 2) “Work to insure such metrics are interpreted appropriately by all stakeholders when the required data become available;” and 3) “Reconcile concerns about confidentiality of producers and specific farms.”  

Food Safety: British Company Applies to use Gut Bacterium as Food Additive
On March 22, Solution Sciences Ltd. (SSL), a British manufacturer of soft drinks, submitted an application to the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) for the approved use of bacterium M. arum as a food ingredient in the European Union.  According to FSA, “M. aurum is an environmental mycobacterium that lives harmlessly in the environment and can also be found in the gut of humans and animals as part of the normal gut microflora.” According to SSL’s application, because “we all live far too hygienically and at an increasing distance from our natural ‘green’ environment,” the use of M. aurum as a food additive offers the potential to restore natural “exposure to an important group of pseudocommensals; namely, the mycobacteria.”

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