Saturday, February 26, 2011

Food & Agriculture at Law Schools: Harvard Law School

As was reported in Food & Agriculture: New Trend in Higher Education, undergraduate academic programs have picked up on growing interest in agricultural & food policy. Law Schools are now joining the ranks of those captivated by issues involving our food system - and there are some fascinating projects and opportunities.

This is the first of a series of posts highlighting the work that law students and their professors are doing in the area of agricultural & food law. It is my hope that through these posts, we can connect law school initiatives, learn from each other, and develop ways to collaborate.  Please contact me directly (Susan Schneider) if you know of law school work that we can highlight.

We begin with Harvard Law School where noted food law expert Peter Barton Hutt has taught a very popular course on Food & Drug Law for many years.

Recently, there are additional new opportunities at Harvard to explore food policy issues. In 2010, law students formed the Harvard Food Law Society, and in a less than a year developed a membership of 150 students.  That same year, Harvard Senior Clinical Fellow, Emily Broad began work on a new Food Policy Initiative.

I asked Emily and Nate Rosenberg, President of the Food Law Society to describe their work for this posting.

Harvard Law School – Food Policy Initiative of the 
Health Law and Policy Clinic

The Food Policy Initiative of the Harvard Law School Health Law and Policy Clinic links Harvard Law students with opportunities to work with clients and communities on food policy issues. It draws on the work of the joint Harvard Law School/Mississippi State University Delta Project, which combines grassroots initiatives involving local farmers, community members, farmers markets, and schools, with state-level advocacy work in Mississippi to bring about legal and policy change.

The Initiative aims to increase access to healthy foods, prevent diet-related diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, and assist small farmers and producers in participating in local food markets.  It is engaged in a range of food policy project areas, including:
  • Assisting with the development and research needs of state and local food policy councils, i.e., groups of community stakeholders working to promote laws and policies that increase access to healthy food and rational farm policies;
  • Assessing food safety rules to inform law and policy changes that would increase the economic opportunities for small local producers, including working with state governments to allow for the in-home production of certain low-risk food products;
  • Establishing and supporting rural farmers markets, including breaking down barriers to the use of SNAP (food stamps) and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program food benefits;
  • Analyzing and recommending ways to increase access to healthy produce for low-income individuals, individuals surviving on food benefit programs, and those living in “food deserts;”
  • Identifying and breaking down legal and non-legal barriers that stand in the way of small producers going beyond direct farm-to-consumer sales to sell at grocery stores, restaurants, and Farm to School or Farm to Institution programs;
  • Investigating best practices for school policies to promote healthy school environments.
Current projects include helping Mississippi farmers markets access EBT machines to promote SNAP (food stamp) use at markets in Mississippi; analyzing and recommending an overhaul of the Mississippi WIC food distribution program to help promote food access for WIC participants; working with various food stakeholders (restaurants, farmers, farmers markets, produce trucks) and the Shelby County Health Department to update to the Memphis Food Code; and identifying and advocating for legislative changes to protect and promote “true” farmers and farmers markets, rather than food peddlers and resellers, in Arkansas.

The Food Policy Initiative currently focuses its work in the Delta region, with projects underway in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee; however, the geographic scope of the Initiative is not limited.  The knowledge and experience developed in the Delta should carry over to replicate work in other communities, using the expertise gained to help build similar federal, state, and local advocacy infrastructure around access to food and assisting small producers around the country.

Each semester, 8-10 law students are involved in the Food Policy Initiative through enrollment in the Health Law Clinic, and another 30-40 students are working on food law projects through the Harvard Food Law Society, the Harvard Law School Mississippi Delta Project, and other pro bono opportunities available through the Food Policy Initiative.

For more information about the Food Policy Initiative, current projects, or ways to collaborate with the Initiative, contact Emily Broad, Senior Clinical Fellow, Health Law and Policy Clinic.

Harvard Food Law Society

In the Spring of 2010, a new Harvard Law School student association, the Food Law Society, was organized by students Nate Rosenberg and Michelle Ahmadian.  It was founded to provide students interested in food law with an opportunity to come together, host food law speakers and events, and work on pro bono student projects in the field of food law.

The Society was founded with the conviction that food law and food policy profoundly affect the environment, public health, and development. Nate and Michelle wanted to create an organization that would allow law students to engage in these issues directly and foster dialogue on food-related issues in the legal community.

By the time the fall semester of 2010 began, the Society had over 50 members, and an ambitious set of events planned for the year.

Pictured right, The Harvard Food Law Society's first Executive Board. From left to right: Projects Chair Patrick O'Leary, President Nathan Rosenberg, 3L Representative Nigel Barrella, 2L Representative Jenny Klein, Alumni/Career Relations Chair Jennifer Kan, 3L Representative Jared Policicchio, Speakers and Events Chair Krista DeBoer.  Not pictured: Secretary/Treasurer Sarah Jelsema, Social/Outreach Chair Jennifer Lee, LLM Representative Cateano Altafin Rodriques da Cunha, and Emily Broad, Faculty Sponsor.

By February of 2011, the Society had tripled its membership, created a website with an active blog, completed a project with Law for Food, and started work on two new pro bono projects under Emily Broad’s supervision. The first project is a collaboration with The Food Trust focused on improving access to nutritious foods in rural food deserts. Another team is working on a small producer’s guide to the new Food Safety Modernization Act. This spring a number of lectures have also been scheduled, bringing in experts on subjects ranging from soil science to nutrition.

Next year the Society hopes to expand its pro bono projects program, host a conference on the interrelationships between food, public health, and nutrition, and publish career and internship guides about opportunities for law students and lawyers to work in the field of food law and policy. It also aims to create ties with students on campuses around the country and, if there’s interest, start a national organization.

Interview with Nate Rosenberg, President, Harvard Food Law Society

1. What led you to forming a Food Law Society at Harvard?
As a first-year law student I found out that some personal health problems were caused by gluten. I had been interested in food policy for a while--I even considered majoring in International Agricultural Development at one point--but this experience made food-related issues more salient. 
Becky Goldberg, an HLS alumna and FDA Foods Counselor, told me in an interview for the blog that she became interested in food law after it suddenly dawned on her that many of the food-related issues she was interested in were “fundamentally tied to the law.” I didn’t have a “lightbulb-over-the-head epiphany” like Becky, but I slowly arrived at the same conclusion. Forming the Food Law Society seemed like a natural next step.
2. Do you find that there is student interest in food law & policy issues?
There is an overwhelming amount of interest. I was surprised by the response to our initial recruitment email and our first info session, which drew almost 50 people. Food is becoming a major political issue, and there is an intense desire among many to learn more and get involved.
3. What are the goals of the Food Law Society?
Our constitution states, “The Food Law Society of Harvard Law School is a nonpartisan society whose mission is to strengthen the capacity of its members to respond to local, national, and international problems in food policy and their effects on public health, the environment, national security and development. The Society advocates an approach to food policy that is sustainable within each of these domains.”
More practically, we want to provide law students with opportunities to gain experience in food law and policy. We also want to increase awareness in the legal community and the broader public of the importance of food policy. Currently, we are the sole chapter of the Food Law Society; however we have talked about creating a national organization. I would love to hear from anyone interested in starting a chapter at their law school.
4. Are there adequate opportunities for studying food law & policy issues in your law school?
No, but that’s changing. The Food Policy Initiative of the Harvard Health Law Clinic continues to grow and Emily Broad and Robert Greenwald plan to offer an innovative course on food policy in the near future. This is my second semester working on food-related projects through the Food Policy Initiative. Through the Clinic, I’m learning a tremendous amount while working on projects including efforts to revise the Memphis Food Code and to expand Farm to School programs in Mississippi.

Peter Barton Hutt also does an amazing job teaching Food and Drug Law, but that course focuses on FDA regulatory law. Hutt, in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Food Law and Policy, wrote that “a true understanding” of food law and policy extends far beyond the “narrow confines” of the regulatory law surrounding food products. I tend to agree with him. The Harvard Law administration has been incredibly supportive of the Food Law Society so far, and I hope that they will continue to respond to student interest by adding courses in agricultural law and broader food law and policy.
5. Are there any activities (past or future) that you would like me to mention?
Definitely. Our Speakers and Events Chair, Krista DeBoer, has an amazing set of speakers lined up this semester, including Frederick Kaufman, whose July 2010 cover story for Harper’s was instrumental in revealing the role that investment banks played in the 2008 global food crisis. You can read about our other events planned this semester on the Events link on our website. 
Our Projects Chair, Patrick O’Leary, is leading two projects this semester with Emily Broad. One will focus on the potential to improve access to nutritious food in rural areas, while the other will involve preparing a small producer’s guide to Food Safety and Modernization Act. These projects are described in greater detail on our website’s Projects page
We have a blog, which contains a series of interviews on careers in food law. We plan to add more content to it soon. 
We’re also working on career and internship guides to food law and policy. If anyone has any suggestions or would like their organization represented in the guides, I encourage them to contact me at

Finally, we’re hosting a conference on public health and nutrition for the fall. We hope to have more details about the conference in the coming months.
6. How many students are involved?
About one hundred and fifty students are currently involved in the Food Law Society.
7. Is there anything else you would like to discuss?
I want to thank Emily Broad for supporting the Food Law Society as our faculty sponsor. Her sustained involvement, guidance, and creativity have been essential to the Food Law Society’s development.

Again, my thanks to Emily and to Nate for documenting the excellent food law & policy work that is ongoing at Harvard.  Their energy is contagious, and the work they are doing is amazing.


Anonymous Shawn Vogt Sween said...

I am thrilled to see food and agricultural law receiving attention at Harvard Law School. As an alum, I often wonder whether there were others like me hiding at Harvard. I practice in agricultural and farm law in Minnesota. When I applied to Harvard Law, I wrote my application on farming issues. My 3L thesis covered nuisance law as it related to protecting livestock farms in Minnesota. I had a wonderful education, but there were few courses that were directly applicable to my ag background and interest at that time. I wish these students all the best!

3/04/2011 10:50 AM  

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