Thursday, August 31, 2006

"It's Not Just White Men Driving Tractors"*

Farmers Markets provide farmers excellent opportunities for direct sales and marketing, and the number of farmers markets has skyrocketed in the past decade. In Minnesota, and elsewhere throughout the country, Hmong farmers are increasingly familiar faces at such markets. This expansion, apparently, has not been without growing pains. Case in point, Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Curt Brown highlighted recent tension between Hmong farmers and a St. Paul (Minnesota) farmers market in this article, Fruits, Vegetables, and Growing Discord.

Brown reports that some Hmong members have complained of poor treatment by the market's manager. The manager, Jack Gerten, insists that he makes all members play by the rules, which are strictly enforced. Gerten points to some problems communicating, though he holds a special meeting for Hmong members at least once a year.

The bad feelings are unfortunate. One hopes that the St. Paul market management and its members find ways to work together to preserve this option for all farmers who want to participate.

*I'm borrowing this title phrase from Stephen Carpenter of the Farmers Legal Action Group. While I'm at it, I should also note that Hmong farmers in Minnesota more frequently use rototillers than tractors.

The University of Minnesota works with recent immigrants to improve agricultural health and safety practices such as handling pesticides, and avoiding equipment injuries. U of M research fellow Michele Schermann turned her work with Hmong farmers into a book that employs traditional Hmong storytelling to illustrate the farming hazards that Hmong farm children face. For the skinny on Schermann's work, click here. A Web Sampler of the book is also available.

The University of Wisconsin's Cooperative Extension also works with Hmong farmers, offering, among other assistance, voice narrated slide shows (in Hmong and English) walking farmers through the process of selling at a farmers market.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

NYT's Ag Article Among Top 10 E-mailed

Monica Davey's article, Blistering Drought Ravages Farmland on Plains, is one of the New York Time's top 10 e-mailed stories today. The on-line version features a great graphic of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.

Wonder how often stories about agriculture hit the top 10?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Local food, national broadcast

Local foodMonday, this blog posed the question, "Are consumers paying more attention to where their food comes from?" Some evidence of that trend--A national radio broadcast titled, "Eating Local, Thinking Global."

National Public Radio's "Science Friday" featured a discussion with author Brian Halweil (Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket) and Dr. Jennifer Wilkins, a Kellogg Food and Society Fellow and a senior extension associate at the Division of Nutrition Sciences at Cornell University.

Their topic: The movement toward local agriculture. Host Ira Flatow anticipated a popular show, opening with this aside to listeners, "I know you're going to call us, because we always get lots of calls on this topic." The wide-ranging discussion covered topics from the taste of locally grown tomatoes (superior), to school lunches (inferior, but getting better), to the farm bill.

Both Halweil and Wilkins discussed the energy cost of our food system, with Wilkins noting that for every calorie we consume, about ten calories of fossil fuel are spent, and Halweil providing an analogy: "[T]his long-distance food system, is really only efficient in the same sense that a coal-fired power plant is efficient: It produces energy, but only if you ignore all the smog that's coming with it." Both also pointed to a growing consumer interest in how food gets from farm to table. Wilkins noted the disconnect between what dietary guidelines tell us to eat, and what our production system supports. Both offered suggestions for consumers interested in bypassing, at least on occasion, the industrial food system.

You can listen to the show by clicking this link.

Cats and agricultural history

Although this forum is a close cousin of Jurisdynamics -- indeed, Agricultural Law is a member of the Jurisdynamics Network -- Agricultural Law can't assume that all of its readers are familiar with the quirks of its slightly older sister weblog. Jurisdynamics' taxon of the week feature, for all we know here at Agricultural Law, is a mystery to our readers. Furthermore, in light of this forum's reference to Hemingway's hexadactyl cats during its beta-testing phase, a brief word on cats seems in order.

A month ago, Jurisdynamics designated Felis silvestris catus, more commonly known as the domesticated cat, as the taxon of the week. The reason is one that everyone interested in agriculture should appreciate.

The story of feline domestication is the story of civilization. Foraging societies have no real use for the cat. But once humans began living in sedentary settlements, they quickly recognized the value of a superb rodent-killing animal with no proclivity of its own (unlike dogs) to eat grains, fruits, or vegetables. As urban landscapes dominate more of the human environment, the cat has become the consummate city pet. Although the number of American households owning dogs exceeds the number owning cats, cats outnumber dogs in absolute terms in the United States. Originally domesticated in support of agrarian society, cats now rule in the twilight of the farm.

Any person living with a cat understands that no cat is ever truly "owned" by a human. Among putatively domesticated animals, the cat is unusually capable of getting by without human asisstance. The saga of human-feline mutualism, which is often non-obligatory on both sides of the relationship, thus offers lessons for game theory. Given how late the mutualistic relationship arose in the shared history of humans and cats, those lessons may shed especially clarifying light on how spontaneous, opportunistic partnerships arise within human society.

The cat depicted here is Sasha. Her tortoiseshell coloring is an expression of the complicated genetics of color in cats. Among other things, being a "tortie" all but guarantees that Sasha is female -- male torties, mosaics in the genetic as well as casual sense, have the feline equivalent of Klinefelter's syndrome -- and that her tortoiseshell coat can't be duplicated through cloning.

Suffice it to say that Sasha is irreplaceable.

Monday, August 28, 2006

First Your Coke, Now Your Vodka

First, corn made its way, via high fructose corn syrup, into your soda-pop, and now, if researchers Hans van Leeuwen and Jacek Koziel at Iowa State University are successful, you could be drinking corn vodka.

van Leeuwen and Koziel, both affiliated with the Institute for Food Safety and Security at ISU, are figuring out how to cheaply and quickly convert fuel ethanol into the purer, cleaner alcohol that goes into alcoholic drinks, cough medicine, mouth washes and other food-grade alcohol.

To this, we can only say, "Cheers" and "Go Cyclones!"

Briefly Noted: "Civic Agriculture"

"Civic agriculture", a phrase coined by Cornell University's Thomas Lyson, refers to "the rebirth of locally based agriculture and food production." (1)

It's also the title of his 2004 book, Civic Agriculture: Reconnecting Farm, Food and Community. Professor Lyson argues for a civic agriculture that would "embod[y] a commitment to developing and strengthening an economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable system of agriculture and food production that relies on local resources and serves local markets and consumers." (63)

As Lyson tells it, civic agriculture has the following characteristics, nicely set out in table form at page 85:

"(1) Farming is oriented toward local markets that serve local consumers rather than national or international mass markets.
(2) Agriculture is seen as an integral part of rural communities, not merely as production of commodities.
(3) Farmers are concerned more with high quality and value-added products and less with quantity (yield) and least-cost production practices.
(4) Production at the farm level is often more labor-intensive and land-intensive and less capital-intensive and land-extensive. Farm enterprises tend to be considerably smaller in scale and scope than industrial producers.
(5) Producers more often rely on local, site-specific knowledge and less on a uniform set of "best management practices."
(6) Producers forge direct market links to consumers rather than indirect links through middlemen (wholesalers, brokers, processors, etc.)." (85, T. 6.1)

In making his case for a role for civic agriculture Lyson sketches the rise of modern agriculture, deftly, if somewhat superficially, explaining how we got here (and where, in fact, "here" is). He convincingly outlines the problems of a too-consolidated food industry, and makes a case for a role for agriculture in rural redevelopment.

Lyson makes a compelling argument for some sort of civic (alternative, sustainable, local) agriculture. This reader, however, wishes the ideas and claims set forth in "Civic Agriculture" were more developed. For example, Lyson argues for a place for sustainable agriculture in our food supply, but gives us few clues as to just how that place will be made, or how extensive that place should or even could be. How exactly we can achieve a civic agriculture is also a question Lyson addresses, but does not entirely answer.

Despite this criticism, Lyson has produced a thought-provoking, accessible piece.

Editors' note: This is the first in an occasional series of brief reviews of books or articles of interest to the agriculture law community. Contact the authors to bring to our attention a noteworthy piece.

Introducing Agricultural Law


In the inaugural post of what has become the Jurisdynamics Network, the blog called Jurisdynamics laid claim to a view of law "so vast that fully to comprehend it would require an almost universal knowledge ranging from" economics and the natural sciences "to the niceties of the legislative, judicial and administrative processes of government." Queensboro Farms Prods., Inc. v. Wickard, 137 F.2d 969, 975 (2d Cir. 1943). Careful students of the New Deal will recognize Queensboro Farms as the handiwork of Judge Jerome Frank and the real controversy in that case as a dispute over milk. From dairy production to the incipient industry of biopharming, agriculture does indeed traverse "an almost universal knowledge" of all that touches humanity and its relationship with the rest of the living world.

Agriculture, more than any other single human enterprise, demands mastery of virtually every field of learning. The sheer complexity and difficulty of the field does not evaporate when the law engages agriculture. No other single field of law traverses as many different sources of learning -- legal and nonlegal.

This weblog, Agricultural Law, wholeheartedly embraces the challenge presented by agriculture and its interaction with the law. It can be reached in any of the following ways:However you choose to find Agricultural Law, we welcome you and invite your readership and commentary. We hope that you will visit often.

Editor's note: The three images illustrating this post, all drawn from the Wikipedia Commons, also appear in Agricultural Law's header. In succession, these images represent:
  • Plowing with a team of horses in Germany
  • Maintaining a rice field in Bangladesh
  • Harvesting wheat in Washington state
The images thus cover a single agricultural production cycle even as they represent three major agricultural regions -- Europe, Asia, and North America.

How 'Bout Them Tomatoes?

Who is picking your tomatoes? And how much is he or she getting paid for it?

That is what the folks at Sojourners would like you to consider. Soujourners, whose mission is to "articulate the biblical call to social justice," recently issued a call for its members to let McDonald's know that its customers are paying attention to how tomatoes get from Flordia fields and into their Big Macs.

According to an e-mail sent by Soujourners, McDonald's has refused to play ball with a farm workers organization, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, "CIW." The CIW seeks higher wages and a code of humane conduct for its farm worker members.

The CIW reached an agreement last year with Yum Brands (Taco Bell). See Yum Brands' "Supplier Code of Conduct" and its Supplemental Policy Statement for Florida Tomato Growers.

Consumers pressuring industry to improve working conditions, welcome as it is, is nothing new (think Kathie Lee Gifford's sweatshop fiasco). But could this renewed attention to treatment of farm workers, coupled with fast food outlets advertising for example, "natural chicken" (anyone else seen Chipotle's billboards advertising "natural chicken"?) signify a growing attention to how the food we eat gets from field to mouth? If so, what is that attention going to mean for agriculture?

Why does academia ignore agricultural law?

Grain harvestOver at The Conglomerate, there's plenty of buzz over Larry Gavin's recent SSRN post, The Strange Death of Academic Commercial Law. Christine Hurt and Vic Fleischer have each posted thoughtful proposals for reconfiguring the law school curriculum to bring this venerable and valuable subject back to legal academia.

What concerns us here at Agricultural Law and the larger Jurisdynamics Network, however, and what should concern everyone who has a stake in this business, is why law schools have never given any attention to agricultural law as a coherent, dignified discipline. This problem, whose resolution lies well beyond the reach of a single blog post to address, poses a serious challenge for this forum. Why indeed should legal academics devote any effort to the legal problems that attend the production, processing, marketing, and consumption of food, fiber, and other agricultural products?

Agricultural Law's very existence hinges on a successful effort to answer this question.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The FDA approves a bacteriophage spray

There is a high "yuck" factor at work, but the FDA has approved a bacteriophage spray to combat Listeria. Any connection to The Phages of American Law occurs only at the highest levels of intellectual abstraction.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Omnivore's Dilemma

Watch this space for a review of Michael Pollan's, the Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.

Pollan, a journalism professor at U.C. Berkeley, and contributor to the New York Times Magazine, has much to say about industrial agriculture, "big organic" (think Whole Foods, Cal-Organic), grass farming, and sustainability.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Organic milk articles

Here are a couple of articles about organic milk by Matt McKinney of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Got organic milk? Maybe it is, maybe not

Organic milk: It's not a black-and-white issue

The Minneapolis Woman's Club hosted a discussion about organic milk standards; an area into which the USDA is poised take action.

It's not just milk producers questioning the organic label. Many farmers believe that "organic" should mean organic. The Farmer's Legal Action Group is representing Massachusetts Independent Certification, Inc. (MICI) in their suit against U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns. MICI is arguing USDA’s interpretation of the appeal rights of certifying agents within the National Organic Program violates both the Organic Foods Production Act and the U.S. Constitution. USDA is seeking to dismiss the lawsuit by arguing that MICI lacks the right to bring this case and that USDA’s appeal regulations are lawful. This case could have far reaching implications for the integrity of the “USDA organic” label.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The National AgLaw Center adds more resources

Ann Winfred of the National Agricultural Law Center has announced the Center's latest expansion, an Agritourism Reading Room.

The Center's Research Publications section has also posted several new papers, including the following:
  1. The World Trade Organization and the Commodity Title of the Next Farm Bill: A Practitioner's View by Doug O'Brien
  2. State Regulation of Production Contracts by Alison Peck
  3. Are You a Debt Relief Agency? You Might Be Surprised and You Should Be Concerned by Susan S. Schneider
  4. European Union Food Law Update - II by Nicole Coutrelis
  5. Is a Picture Worth 1,000 Words? The 4th Amendment and the FDA's Authority to Take Photographs Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by Neal D. Fortin
  6. From the Farm to the Factory: An Overview of the American and European Approaches to Regulation of the Beef Industry by Crisaria S. Houston
  7. United States Food Law Update - II by Michael T. Roberts
  8. 2005 Commercial Law Update by Keith G. Meyer
  9. 2005 Environmental Law Update by Theodore A. Feitshans
  10. Planting the Seeds for a New Industry in Arkansas: Agritourism by Harrison M. Pittman

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Duke Law Journal announces a food law symposium

Duke LawThe Duke Law Journal has issued a call for papers for its 37th Annual Administrative Law Conference:
The Duke Law Journal will host its thirty-seventh annual Administrative Law Conference in February of 2007. The conference will consider the administrative state’s regulation of food.

We seek submissions addressing novel administrative law issues raised by organic and genetically modified foods, in addition to food safety, nutrition, and regulations affecting farmers, ranchers, and the food supply in general.

Please submit a short (1,500-word) prospectus of your proposed topic to by August 28, 2006, with the subject heading “ALC Submission.” Authors will be notified of the results of our selection process by September 12, 2006. All submissions should be accompanied by the author’s curriculum vitae, and an indication of the author’s availability in February 2007.
Thanks to Larry Solum at Legal Theory Blog and Dave Hoffman at Concurring Opinions for disseminating this information. This announcement has been cross-posted at Jurisdynamics.