Thursday, December 22, 2016

Agricultural Law Weekly Review—December 22, 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:

Chesapeake Bay: Study finds many PA Farmers have Voluntarily Implemented Water Quality Practices
On December 15, 2016, the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences announced the results of a new research study that found that “[m]any Pennsylvania farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have voluntarily implemented, at their own expense, practices aimed at improving water quality.” Based largely on a survey response from nearly 7,000 Pennsylvania farmers, the information collected was verified through 700 randomly selected farm visits conducted by Penn State Extension staff members. According to the announcement, the study assists in documenting the voluntary best management practices used by farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed that have not been “adequately captured and reported for credit.”

Food Law: Court Dismisses Lawsuit against Philadelphia Soda Tax
On December 19, 2016, the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County First Judicial District of Trial Division-Civil dismissed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate Philadelphia’s recently enacted 1.5% tax on sugar sweetened beverages (Lora Jean Williams, et. al., v. City of Philadelphia, et. al., Control Number 16100940).  The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that because sugary drinks are already taxed at the state level, and Pennsylvania law prevents duplicate taxes, the tax violated the uniformity clause of the state’s constitution.  As a result of the ruling, the tax is scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2017.  

Medical Marijuana: PA Announces Application Dates for Medical Marijuana Program
On December 21, 2016, Pennsylvania Department of Health (PDH) issued a press release announcing the Medical Marijuana Program permit application dates for growers, processors, and dispensaries.  According to PDH, permit applications will be made available beginning January 17, 2017, and will be accepted from February 20, 2017 until March 20, 2017.  PDH stated that there will 12 permits issued for growers/processors and 27 permits issued for dispensaries.

Water: President Signs Drought Relief into Law
On December 16, 2016, President Obama signed into law the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (S.612).  The law, which is intended “[t]o provide for improvements to the rivers and harbors of the United States, to provide for the conservation and development of water and related resources” contains drought relief provisions applicable to the agricultural industry. 

FSMA: FDA Publishes Updated Training Strategy
On December 21, 2016, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an update to the agency’s Strategy for Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) training.  According to FDA, the published update “reflect[s] the progress the progress that has been made in the past year” regarding the implementation of FSMA. 

Trade: U.S. Announces Enforcement Action against China for Rice, Wheat, and Corn
On December 21, 2016, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced that “the Obama Administration [has] launched a new trade enforcement action against the People’s Republic of China at the World Trade Organization (WTO) concerning China’s administration of tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) for rice, wheat, and corn.” According to USTR, China’s government excessively administers price supports for rice, wheat, and corn and that these actions are a breach of “WTO commitments and undermines American farm exports.”

Fees: PDA Announces Fees for Certificates of Free Sale
On December 17, 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) published notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin regarding the fees the department will charge persons for the issuance of Certificates of Free Sale (46 Pa.B. 7832).  According to PDA, “[a] Certificate of Free Sale is a formal, official attestation from the Department, confirming that specified Commonwealth-produced food offered for entry into another country complies with applicable laws for distribution of that food in domestic commerce.” Additionally, “[a] Certificate of Free Sale might also address the process or system by which a food is produced.”

Labeling: USDA Encourages “Best if Used By” date label
On December 14, 2016, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced new guidance “encouraging food manufacturers and retailers that apply product dating to use a ‘Best if Used By’ date label.” With the exception of infant formula, Federal regulations do not require product dating.  Nevertheless, “[f]ood manufacturers frequently use a variety of phrases, such as ‘Sell-by’ and ‘Use-by’ on product labels to describe quality dates on a voluntary basis.” To eliminate consumer confusion, “FSIS is changing its guidance to recommend the use of ‘Best if Used By’ because research shows that this phrase is easily understood by consumers as an indicator of quality, rather than safety.”

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