Webinar: Impacts of COVID-19 on Food Security and Long-term Implications and Adaptations

by Diana Winters

On September 18, I attended a webinar hosted by the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis at Ohio State University on the impacts of Covid-19 on food security. The panelists included Kip Curtis, an Associate Professor in the Department of History at OSU, Mary Rodriguez, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership at OSU, Brian Snyder, the Executive Director of the Initiative for Food and Agricultural Transformation (InFACT) at OSU, and Lauren Vargo – a Program Manager at Case Western Reserve University.

The panelists discussed the enormous impact of Covid-19 on family decision-making concerning food, and the increase in the use of federal and state food assistance benefits. Rodriguez described how families had to shift their buying habits because of the pandemic. Although official advice was to acquire two weeks of food, many families had neither the financial capacity nor the infrastructure to do so, and had to shift their diets accordingly. Curtis, an environmental historian, discussed the growing importance of local food production, in the context of many crises–not just the pandemic.

Snyder analogized the food system to a river, which had reduced water flow because of the pandemic. This drop in water level exposed hazards in the system that were always there, but hidden. For example, the public became aware of shortages and surpluses in the supply chain, as well as bottlenecks and dams in production, processing, and distribution. Worker issues became visible, especially in the area of meat processing, as production slowed because of rampant disease spread amongst closely packed individuals. Moreover, the fact that approximately 50% of farmworkers are undocumented disincentivized testing and treatment, which leads to more disease spread.

Vargo pointed out how much more food is in the media now, and this webinar highlighted how food and food systems became critically important during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is by no means over. There is no more important time to address the hazards in our food supply, to prepare us not just for future crises, but for the present.

Retail Water Rates and Community Gardens in Los Angeles

Welcome back to On Food Law! We are excited to be back from our summer break and can’t wait to see what the rest of 2020 will bring. (Kidding.)

We have some exciting news – Laura Yraceburu Dall’s (UCLA Law ’20) article on the effect of Proposition 218 on retail water rates for community gardens in Los Angeles, which won the 2020 California Water Law Writing Prize co-sponsored by the California Water Law Symposium Board of Directors and the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, has been published in the California Water Law Journal.

Laura, who was deeply involved with the Resnick Center during her time at UCLA Law, writes that she came to the topic in her Food Law & Policy Clinic:

“As a part of Professor Korn’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, a representative of the Los Angeles Food and Policy Council came to discuss her advocacy and mentioned that water rates for community gardens were increasing by nearly three hundred percent, threatening the existence of gardens to the detriment of low-income community members. I began researching outside of class and came to realize that there was no clear understanding of why the rates were increasing so dramatically. I knew that I had to write about it.”
She then wrote the paper for her water law course, and submitted it for the 2020 CA Water Law Writing Prize.
Here is a synopsis of the paper:

Community gardens in Los Angeles County have seen water rates increase from a flat rate of $1.41 per hundred cubic feet (HCF) in March 2016 to $2.095/HCF plus variable adjustments in July 2019 – a 289 percent increase.[1] As a result, some community gardens have been forced to quadruple their member gardeners’ monthly dues to cover the increasing cost of water.[2] In three years, this increase in the price of water has made gardening significantly more expensive and has priced out low-income, largely immigrant community members[3] who rely on these gardens to supplement their diets with fresh produce. Community gardens across Los Angeles now face the choice of either having their membership change from subsisters who rely on the gardens for dietary needs to hobby gardeners who can pay more to fund the gardens or, alternatively, closing their operations.  Either result increases food insecurity for the most vulnerable members of the gardens’ communities.

California has a long history of resisting tax increases through voter-approved propositions, known in short-hand as the California Tax Revolt. This effort has generally made it more challenging for cities and utilities to raise needed revenue for local services and programs, including water service,[4] but a deeper problem exists than a shortage of funds. Proposition 218, which amended the California Constitution, imposes substantive and procedural requirements on local agencies by limiting property-related fees, including retail water rates.[5]  Proposition 218’s shifting of rate setting authority to the electorate has paradoxically contributed to a significant water rate increase for Los Angeles’ community gardens.  While the goal of the Tax Revolt was to keep taxes and rates low, certain ratepayers have not received such benefits and in fact have experienced disproportionate rate increases.

This paper begins with an overview of community gardens and the history of the California Tax Revolt, primarily focusing on Propositions 13 and 218.[6]  Next, this paper will evaluate Proposition 218’s consequences for community gardens in the Los Angeles area. An analysis of how Proposition 218 was sold to voters will follow. A discussion of practical steps towards reform will precede the conclusion.[7]

 

This important work can be found here.

For Your Meatless Monday Reading Pleasure

by Diana R. H. Winters

Recently there has been a lot of interest in plant-based meat substitutes and their potential role in reducing global meat consumption and the environmental impact of meat production.

This week’s Economist discussed how plant-based meat can reshape the market, and its environmental potential.  The article, under the headline of “Fake Moos“, explains, however, that companies marketing plant-based meat substitutes must radically increase their reach to make much of a difference.

In today’s New York Times, David Yaffe-Bellany discusses how this may happen in “The New Makers of Plant-Based Meat?  Big Meat Companies.”  This article explains that Tyson, Smithfield, Purdue, and other meat producers are moving into the meat-substitute space.  The oddest product being introduced?  A “blended” product introduced by Purdue and Tyson, which combines meat and vegetable protein.  Weird.

And last week, Tad Friend at The New Yorker profiled Impossible Burger, and its founder’s ambition to “wipe out all animal agriculture and deep-sea fishing by 2035.”

Why the sudden fascination with bleeding vegetable protein?  Perhaps it rings a hopeful note after last month’s bleak climate news, providing a way forward for individual action.  But first, we have to stop flying these burgers across the Atlantic…..

An Ongoing Regulatory Failure – Antibiotics in Animal Feed

by Diana R. H. Winters

A few weeks back, the New York Times published an article about continuing publicity campaigns by drugmakers to sell antibiotics to farmers for use in healthy animals.  In “Warning of ‘Pig Zero’: One Drugmaker’s Push to Sell More Antibiotics,” Danny Hakim and Matt Richtel discuss the recent (and not-so-recent) regulatory attempts to curtail antibiotic use in animal feed and show how one drugmaker has worked to maneuver around these obstacles to continue selling massive amounts of antibiotics to farmers.

Particularly striking in this article is the explanation of how antibiotic overuse affects human health:

“The connection of overuse of antibiotics in livestock to human health takes two         paths: As bacteria develop defenses against drugs widely used in animals, those defense mechanisms can spread to other bacteria that infect humans; and, resistant germs are transmitted from livestock to humans — through undercooked meat, farm-animal feces seeping into waterways, waste lagoons that overflow after natural disasters like Hurricane Florence, or when farm workers and others come into contact with animals.”

And how this connection is misconstrued by pharmaceutical companies:

“Mr. Simmons of Elanco has long played down livestock’s role in spreading resistant microbes to humans.

‘The most serious pathogens are not related to antibiotics used in food animals,’ he said. ‘Of the 18 major antibiotic-resistant threats that the C.D.C. tracks, only two, campylobacter and nontyphoidal salmonella, are associated with animals.’

But such oft-repeated statements, made even in Elanco’s securities filings, refer only to food-borne strains like antibiotic-resistant salmonella that can be found in raw chicken, for example, while ignoring the myriad ways pathogens can be transferred.”

Also striking is the discussion of research linking the rise in C.Diff. infections, as well as in E. coli and MRSA infections, and the use of antibiotics in livestock:

“There is a growing body of research establishing links between Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, in livestock and humans, viewed by the C.D.C. as an urgent threat. Broad-spectrum antibiotics in livestock provide “a survival advantage to antibiotic-resistant C. difficile strains,” according to a 2018 study by Australian researchers. Similar studies exist for E. coli and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA — the C.D.C. even lists different animals like cows, goats, sheep and deer that can pass E. coli to humans.”

Disturbing on many levels, the article highlights how federal attempts to regulate antibiotics, while laudable, have fallen short.

 

See our prior post on a previous N.Y. Times article on this issue here.

New Scholarship: Holding the Animal Agriculture Industry Accountable for Climate Change

by Diana R. H. Winters

UCLA Law 3L Amit Liran has published “Holding the Animal Agriculture Industry Accountable for Climate Change: Merits of a Public Nuisance Claim Under California and Federal Law,” in the Villanova Environmental Law Journal (Vol. 30, Issue 1 (2019)).  This paper develops arguments for a public nuisance claim under both California state and federal common law against companies within the animal agriculture industry for their role in climate change and assesses the validity of such arguments.

About coming to this topic, Liran writes:

“I was first inspired to write Holding the Animal Agriculture Industry Accountable for Climate Change: Merits of a Public Nuisance Claim Under California and Federal Law            while enrolled in the “Introduction to Food Law and Policy” course taught by Professor Michael T. Roberts, the founding Executive Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law.  Class discussions regarding civil food law claims based on misrepresentations of nutritional facts made me consider potential claims against huge forces in the food industry that—motivated by profits—have continuously pushed long-standing misconceptions regarding the nutritional value of modern food staples.  This strategy boosted consumption of their products and thereby materially contributed to today’s most pressing exigency: climate change.  Based on parallel claims that have been brought against fossil fuel companies, I developed and wrote about potential litigation strategies against the most culpable of such forces.”

 

Enjoy!

 

“Public Values in Conflict with Animal Agribusiness Practices” Conference at UCLA Law

By Michael T. Roberts

 

On February 23, 2019, the Resnick Center for Food Law and the UCLA Animal Law and Policy Program hosted a one-day conference at UCLA Law titled, “Public Values in Conflict with Animal Agribusiness Practices.” The conference featured three panels about subjects relevant to closing the gap between public values and animal agribusiness practices. These three panels addressed  the role and utility of undercover investigations, production method issues and consumer perceptions of labels, and private agreements with corporations as a way to improve business practices that affect workers and animals and to reduce animal products.

This conference was part of a joint Initiative on Animals in Our Food System between the Resnick Center and the UCLA Animal Law and Policy Program and funded by a generous gift from the Animal Welfare Trust. We previously co-hosted with the Animal and Law and Policy Program a Roundtable discussion on the legal and business considerations in how investments are made in plant-based enterprises. We have also incorporated law and policy issues related to animals in the food system in our classes and events. The Center is grateful for its association with the UCLA Animal Law and Policy Program and looks forward to future joint activities.

The Resnick Center and The Promise Institute at UCLA Law Host UN Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General José Graziano da Silva

by Diana R. H. Winters

On February 15, 2019, the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy and The Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA Law hosted the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva, who gave a talk titled, “A Global Perspective on Regulating and Promoting Nutrition.”  We were honored to host the Director-General for this important presentation.

In his talk, Graziano da Silva emphasized the critical need for regulation regarding healthy food.  He explained that while there are regulations regarding food safety, global entities have entirely failed to regulate for the nutritional value of food.  The world is grappling with a crisis of malnutrition—a broad concept that includes obesity as well as hunger—and this crisis is exacerbated by the failure of regulation.  Malnutrition costs the world economy between three and five billion dollars a year, which is approximately 3% of the global economy.  This problem must be seen as a public issue, Graziano da Silva said, not an individual one, and it is critical that countries find a way to work together.  This is the foremost challenge the FAO faces.

Graziano da Silva was introduced by Hilal Elver, the Global Distinguished Fellow at the Resnick Center for Food Law & Policy, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.  The video recording of the entire event can be found here.

Food Law News

Today was just chock full of food law & policy news.

1. The Supreme Court turned down challenges to two of California’s animal welfare laws: A) Proposition 2, California’s Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, which mandates that the state’s farm animals need be able to “turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs,” and B) CA’s foie gras ban.

The New Food Economy has a good summary of these laws and the challenges here: https://newfoodeconomy.org/supreme-court-animal-welfare-law-cage-free-egg-foie-gras-ban/

2. A federal judge in Iowa found the state’s “ag gag” law unconstitutional, saying that it violates the First Amendment.  https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/agriculture/2019/01/09/ag-gag-law-iowa-struck-down-federal-judge-ia-agriculture-first-amendment-free-speech-puppy-mills/2527077002/

3. The government shutdown’s effect on food safety inspections has been widely noted: https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/424562-fda-says-most-food-inspections-have-been-halted-amid-shutdown.  FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb weighed in on Twitter, however, to explain that the FDA has NOT stopped inspections, but has postponed a small amount of routine inspections.  He wrote, “Food Safety During Shutdown: We’re taking steps to expand the scope of food safety surveillance inspections we’re doing during the shutdown to make sure we continue inspecting high risk food facilities. 31% of our inventory of domestic inspections are considered high risk…”

See thread: https://twitter.com/SGottliebFDA/status/1083055700593516545

He also explained, “We wouldn’t have conducted inspections during the 2 weeks around Christmas and New Years, so this is really the first week where there might have been *some* inspections postponed while we put in place mechanisms to continue high risk food surveillance inspections during shutdown”

For more discussion on the background of food safety inspections, and for fantastic food policy tweeting in general see Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich’s tweets: https://twitter.com/hbottemiller

 

 

The Economist on Gleaning

Happy New Year!  Apologies for the long holiday hiatus.  More soon, but for now, enjoy this fantastically interesting Economist article on the practice of gleaning:

https://www.economist.com/christmas-specials/2018/12/22/the-return-of-gleaning-in-the-modern-world

“The scale of the practice may have changed out of all recognition, but the philosophy—almost a theology—of gleaning remains the same. It completes and expands the harvest, so that the greatest possible number can share in it, especially the poor.”

Event at UCLA Law: Suing Monsanto: How a Team of Lawyers Won a Verdict Linking the Herbicide Roundup to Cancer

October 25, 2018

You may remember the interview we did about a month ago with Michael Baum and Pedram Esfandiary from the law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman.  The firm represents approximately 700 plaintiffs in lawsuits against Monsanto alleging that the plaintiffs’ exposure to the Roundup herbicide caused them or a loved one to contract non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  Shortly after this interview, one of these state cases proceeded through trial, and a jury in San Francisco returned a verdict of $289.2 million against Monsanto, including $250 million in punitive damage.  (A few days ago, a California judge upheld the verdict but cut the award to $78 million.) Brent Wisner of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman was co-lead trial counsel in this case.

On December 31, 2018, from 12:15-1:30pm, the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy at UCLA Law will co-sponsor a lunchtime event that will feature attorneys Michael BaumPedram Esfandiary and Brent Wisner of Baum Hedlund Aristei Goldman, PC discussing their lawsuits against Monsanto.

Michael Roberts, Executive Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy, will provide opening remarks and Cara Horowitz, Andrew Sabin Family Foundation Co-Executive Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment will moderate the discussion.

DATE/TIME/LOCATION:

October 31, 2018

12:15 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Room 1347

UCLA Law Building

385 Charles E Young Dr E

Los Angeles, CA 90095

Lunch will be provided for all registered guests.

RSVP:

Please register here by October 26, 2018.

SPEAKERS:

Opening remarks: Michael Roberts, Executive Director, Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy, UCLA School of Law

  • Michael Baum (UCLA J.D. ’85), Attorney, Managing Partner, President, Baum Hedlund Aristei Goldman, PC;
  • Brent Wisner, Attorney, Partner, Baum Hedlund Aristei Goldman, PC;
  • Pedram Esfandiary, Attorney, Baum Hedlund Aristei Goldman, PC;
  • Moderator: Cara Horowitz, Andrew Sabin Family Foundation Co-Executive Director, Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, UCLA School of Law

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