Thursday, May 11, 2017

Agricultural Law Weekly Review—May 11, 2017

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:

WOTUS: EPA and Army Seek State Input on “Waters of the U.S.” Rule
On May 9, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army announced that a letter has been sent “to governors…soliciting input from states on a new definition of protected waters that is in-line with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion in the 2006 Rapanos v. United States case.” The announcement stated: “Scalia’s definition explains that federal oversight should extend to “relatively permanent” waters and wetlands with a “continuous surface connection” to large rivers and streams.” The action is in response to President Donald Trump’s February 28, 2017, executive order “direct[ing] federal agencies to roll back and replace the Obama Administration’s Clean Water Rule – also known as the ‘Waters of the U.S.’ or WOTUS.” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt stated, “[l]ike President Trump, I believe that we need to work with our state governments to understand what they think is the best way to protect their waters, and what actions they are already taking to do so.”

National Organic Program: Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule Delayed  
On May 10, 2017, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced a delay in the effective date for the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Final Rule published on January 19, 2017 (82 FR 7042).  According to USDA AMS, “[t]he final rule amends the organic livestock and poultry production requirements by adding new provisions for livestock handling and transport for slaughter and avian living conditions; and expands and clarifies existing requirements covering livestock care and production practices and mammalian living conditions.” The announced delay, which is intended to allow for further USDA consideration of the rule, moves the rule’s effective date from May 19, 2017, to November 14, 2017.

Food Safety: Gottlieb Confirmed as Head of FDA
On May 9, 2017, the Washington Times reported that the U.S. Senate has confirmed Dr. Scott Gottlieb as the new Commissioner of Food and Drugs by a vote of 57-42.  Accordingly, Commissioner Gottlieb will now head the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  The report stated that “Dr. Gottlieb is an internist who worked as a deputy commissioner at the FDA during the Bush administration from 2005 to 2007.”

Medical Marijuana: California Court Orders Return of Funds Seized from Marijuana Business
On May 8, 2017, the Institute for Justice announced that a San Diego County Superior Court has ordered the San Diego District Attorney (DA) to return funds seized from family members’ bank accounts following a raid on a legal marijuana business.  According to the announcement, “[a]lthough no one has been charged with any crime, the DA used civil forfeiture laws to seize more than $55,000 from James [Slatic’s] personal bank account, more than $34,000 from his wife, Annette, and more than $5,600 each from their teenage daughters Lily and Penny, who had saved the money for college.” The announcement stated that the court “ruled that the District Attorney had no grounds to hold the funds since it had not pursued any criminal charges or forfeiture for more than 12 months.”

Antitrust: Florida Investigates Pricing Practices of Tyson Foods and Pilgrim's Pride
On May 9, 2017, Reuters reported that Tyson Foods Inc. and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. have confirmed that the Florida Attorney General has contacted them seeking information “regarding a probe into possible anticompetitive behavior.” According to the report, “Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office has opened an investigation into allegations made in civil lawsuits filed last year in federal court in Chicago that Tyson and other chicken processors conspired to fix prices.”

Food Safety/Biosecurity: APHIS Announces Notice of Changes to National Poultry Improvement Plan Program Standards
On May 5, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced an update to the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) Program Standards.  USDA APHIS stated that “[i]n a previous notice, the Agency proposed changes to the NPIP Program Standards document to establish new biosecurity principles and to update some testing procedures.” According to USDA APHIS, the previous notice was made “available for public review and comment for 30 days” and that “[n]o comments were received.”

Antitrust: Bayer Agrees to sell Liberty in Order to Acquire Monsanto
On May 8, 2017, Reuters reported that “Bayer (BAYGn.DE) has agreed to sell its Liberty herbicide and LibertyLink-branded seeds businesses to win antitrust approval for its acquisition of Monsanto (NON.N).” According to the report, the two Liberty brand companies “compete with Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer and Roundup Ready seeds.” The report stated that divestment of the global brands was currently being required by South Africa’s Competition Commission and that similar requirements were anticipated in both the United States and the European Union.

Right to Farm: North Carolina Governor Vetoes Bill Limiting Nuisance Suits
On May 5, 2017, the Citizen-Times reported that North Carolina “Governor Roy Cooper vetoed legislation…limiting certain monetary damages in civil lawsuits filed by neighbors of hog and poultry farm operations if a court determines the stench from animal waste is officially a nuisance.” According to the report, Governor Cooper asserted that “the measure…gave special protection to certain types of farm operations and opens the door to weakening civil actions in other nuisance matters.” In response, Rep. Jimmy Dixon, stated: “It’s very unfortunate that the governor chose to veto this bill that was well intended to keep our agriculture community viable and continuing to produce quality and affordable food for our citizens.”

Farmland Preservation: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Issues Annual Farmland Preservation Report
In May 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) released the Bureau of Farmland Preservation 2016 Annual Report.  The report stated: “In 2016, 12,241 acres were placed under agricultural conservation easements.” According to PDA, “[a] total of 531,025 acres has been placed under agricultural conservation easements in the commonwealth since the program began under the authority of Act 149 of 1988.”         

Soda Tax: Santa Fe Voters Reject Soda Tax
On May 2, 2017, the Albuquerque Journal reported that Santa Fe, New Mexico “voters soundly rejected a proposed 2-cents-per-ounce tax on the distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages.” The report stated that “[a] record 37.6 percent of registered voters turned out for the election…[with] 58 percent vot[ing] ‘no.’” According to the report, “Santa Fe’s 2-cents-per-ounce proposal would have matched Boulder, Colo., as the highest in the nation and was aimed at financing an effort to make 1,000 pre-kindergarten education slots available to Santa Fe children for free or at affordable rates.”

Pennsylvania Legislation
Senate Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee:
·         SB 679 (Increasing Access to Consumer Fireworks, Referred to committee, May 5, 2017)
House Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee:
·         HB 1358 (Purely Public Charities - Fraternal and Agricultural Organizations, Referred to committee, May 9, 2017)
·         Committee Meeting on Pennsylvania Forest Products (May 3, 2017)
·         Informational meeting-Presentation by the Secretary of Agriculture on budget and priorities for the Department of Agriculture and any other business that may come before the committee (May 10, 2017)

Pennsylvania Actions and Notices
·         Department of Agriculture: Establishment of the Pennsylvania Apple Program
·         Department of Environmental Protection: Applications, actions and special notices

AgLaw HotLinks:
·         "New GMO to Reduce Cases of Liver Cancer" - AgWeb
·         "Suit challenging N.C. 'Ag-gag' law is dismissed"  - Brownfield

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