Thursday, September 14, 2017

Agricultural Law Weekly Review—September 14, 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:

FSMA: FDA Extends Produce Safety Rule Compliance Dates
On September 13, 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published notice in the Federal Register proposing to extend to the Produce Safety Rule’s agricultural water compliance dates for covered produce other than sprouts (82 FR 42963).  According to the FDA, the extension is intended “to address questions about the practical implementation of compliance with certain provisions and to consider how we might further reduce the regulatory burden or increase flexibility while continuing to achieve our regulatory objectives...” Comments regarding the proposed extension must be submitted by November 13, 2017.

Labor: Judiciary Chairman Announces Plans to Replace H-2A Program
On September 6, 2017, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) announced plans to introduce a bill, entitled the Agricultural Guestworker Act, which would replace the current H-2A program with the H-2C program. Chairman Goodlatte stated that the current agricultural guestworker program “is expensive, flawed, and plagued with red tape” and that the H-2C program will result in greater efficiency and flexibility for agricultural employers.  According to Chairman Goodlatte, “[t]he H-2C program will be administered by the folks at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an agency that clearly understands the unique needs of America’s farm and ranch operations and the importance of getting perishable agricultural commodities to market in an efficient manner.” Currently, the H-2A program is being administered by the U.S. Department of Labor.   

SNAP: USDA Eases SNAP Rules Following Hurricane Irma
On September 12, 2017, as a result of Hurricane Irma, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced a temporary waiver for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants in Florida and Georgia.  According to the announcement, through September 30, 2017, SNAP participants in Florida will be permitted to purchase hot foods and hot ready-to-eat foods with their SNAP benefits.  Additionally, to “ensure families have access to their monthly benefits sooner during this time of immediate crisis,” all September SNAP benefits for Florida participants were issued on September 7, 2017.  Relatedly, for Georgia participants, all remaining September SNAP benefits were issued on September 10, 2017.

WOTUS: EPA Announces Public Meetings Regarding Waters of the United States Rulemaking
Beginning on September 19, 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of the Army “will hold ten teleconferences to hear from stakeholders [regarding] their recommendations to revise the definition of ‘Waters of the United States’ under the Clean Water Act.” EPA stated that one of the teleconferences will be specifically tailored to the agricultural sector relating to row crops, livestock, and silviculture.  Accordingly, the agricultural teleconference is scheduled for October 17, 2017, at 1:00 pm Eastern time. 

Bioengineered Food: USDA Releases Study Regarding Disclosure of Bioengineered Food
On September 6, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced the completion of “a study to identify potential technological challenges that may impact whether consumers would have access to the bioengineering disclosure through electronic or digital disclosure methods.” Entitled: Study of Electronic or Digital Disclosure, the study was completed in compliance with the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard.  According to the study, the following may present challenges for consumers accessing electronic or digital bioengineering disclosures:

  • Consumers do not automatically associate digital links with additional food information
  • Consumers may lack equipment capable of scanning digital links
  • Consumers may be confused due to hundreds of scanning apps being available in the market
  • Consumers may be unable to connect to broadband

Urban Agriculture: Pittsburgh to Open Nation’s Largest Urban Farm
On September 10, 2017, Reuters reported that in 2019 the city of Pittsburgh will become home to the nation’s largest urban farm.  According to the report, the proposed farm will consist “of 23 acres (9 hectares) of farmland where low-income housing once stood, two miles (3 km) from the city center.” Reuters stated the $9.9 million project “is funded by foundations, primarily the Henry L. Hillman Foundation.”

Mergers and Acquisitions: Deere to Acquire Blue River Technology
On September 6, 2017, Deere & Company (Deere) announced that the company “has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Blue River Technology, which is based in Sunnyvale, California and is a leader in applying machine learning to agriculture.” According to Deere, “Blue River has designed and integrated computer vision and machine learning technology that will enable growers to reduce the use of herbicides by spraying only where weeds are present, optimizing the use of inputs in farming – a key objective of precision agriculture.” Deere stated that the cost to fully acquire Blue River Technology will be $305 million.

Pennsylvania Legislation
Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee (Senate)
  • SB 819  Legislation to amend the Agricultural Area Security Law to provide uniformity and protection for agritourism activities (referred to committee September 8, 2017)

Judiciary (Senate)
  • SB 820  Legislation to provide civil immunity for persons that operate agritourism activities under certain circumstances (referred to committee September 8, 2017)

Environmental Resources and Energy (Senate)
  • SB 879   Legislation to amend the Conservation District Law to transfer the permitting authority for projects on farms from the Department of Environmental Protection to the State Conservation Commission (referred to committee September 11, 2017)   

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