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:
GMO Labeling: Senate Votes to Limit Debate on Labeling Legislation
On July 6, 2016, the United States Senate voted 65-32 for cloture on legislation establishing a “National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard” (S.Amdt.4935 to S.764). By obtaining the 60 votes necessary for cloture, debate on the proposed legislation will be limited to no more than 30 hours. If enacted, the proposed legislation would create a national labeling standard for foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) and preempt state GMO labeling laws.
Antitrust: Court Approves Settlement of Class Action against Egg Producers
On June 30, 2016, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania approved five separate settlement agreements reached in a consolidated class action suit, brought against five different national egg producers, for allegedly manipulating the supply and domestic price of eggs (In re: Processed Egg Products Antitrust Litigation, 2016 WL 3584632). The combined amount of the five separate settlement agreements totaled $8.425 million.
Food Safety: FDA to Extend Comment Period Regarding Raw Manure and Produce
On June 30, 2016, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published notice in the Federal Register that the agency was “extending the comment period for the notice entitled ‘Risk Assessment of Foodborne Illness Associated With Pathogens From Produce Grown in Fields Amended With Untreated Biological Soil Amendments of Animal Origin; Request for Scientific Data, Information, and Comments’ that appeared in the Federal Register of March 4, 2016” (81 FR 42715). FDA stated that the extension is “due to maintenance on the Federal eRulemaking portal in early July 2016.” As a result, FDA will now accept submitted comments, either written or electronic, by July 19, 2016.
Pesticides: EPA Extends Comment Period for Ecological Risk Assessments of 3 Herbicides
On July 6, 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published notice in the Federal Register extending the “comment period for the draft ecological risk assessments of atrazine, simazine, and propazine…60 days, from August 5, 2016, to October 4, 2016.” (81 FR 44018). According to EPA, the “comment period is being extended in response to a number of extension requests from various stakeholders citing difficulty commenting during the growing season, and the length, quantity, and complexity of the Risk Assessments.”
Worker Safety: OSHA to Increase Civil Penalties for Violations
On June 30, 2016, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) announced that DOL was adjusting civil penalties for the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). According to DOL, “OSHA's maximum penalties, which were last adjusted in 1990, will increase by 78%...[and] [g]oing forward, the agency will continue to adjust its penalties for inflation each year based on the Consumer Price Index.” DOL stated, “[t]he new penalties will take effect after August 1, 2016…[and] [a]ny citations issued by OSHA after that date will be subject to the new penalties if the related violations occurred after November 2, 2015.”
Farm Inspection: Court Orders Government Access to “Private Membership Association” Facilities and Records
On July 6, 2016, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held that the United States Department of Agriculture and its Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) can enforce “an April 4, 2016 FSIS administrative subpoena requiring…access to Miller’s Organic Farm’s facilities and records related to the farm’s meat and poultry products” (United State of America v. Miller’s Organic Farm and, Amos Miller, Civil Action No. 16-cv.2732) According to the court, prior to the ruling, Miller’s Organic Farm, and its owner Amos Miller, had “refused to comply with the subpoena, on grounds that it infringed their First Amendment right to freedom of association, because Miller’s Organic Farm is a ‘Private Membership Association.’” The court stated that “Defendant Amos Miller,” who represented himself in court, “failed to show cause why Miller’s Organic Farm and he should not produce the summoned information and grant the summoned access.”