President Trump Signs Executive Order to Keep Meat Processing Plants Open

by Diana Winters

Thousands of workers at meat processing and packing plants have contracted coronavirus* and over 20 have died.  As of last week 13 plants had closed down for some period of time resulting in a significant reduction in the nation’s meat slaughter (pork and beef) capacity.

Yesterday, April 28, President Trump signed an Executive Order declaring meat plants “critical infrastructure” and directing the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, to ensure that processing plants remain open.

The Order requires that continued operations be in compliance with guidance from the CDC and OSHA regarding safety in plants, but because this guidance is voluntary, labor representatives fear that workers will continue to be put at risk by working in meat plants.  Moreover, some meat plant workers insist they will not be ordered to come to work.

Some scholars have speculated that the main purpose of the Order is to block local objections and potentially protect the meat processing and packing industry from liability for coronavirus contracted on the job.  The issue of tort liability is being discussed more broadly in relation to the gradual reopening of the economy, and certain representatives for business are asking the Trump administration to include a liability shield in any future relief legislation.

As we consider the effects of this Executive Order, perhaps this is a good time to remember that poor diet has been linked to worse outcomes from Covid-19, and that excess meat consumption has been linked to many diet-related diseases.  Maybe a (temporary) reduction in the meat supply can be tolerated?

 

*Many of the articles linked in this post, as well as many others, are linked in the Resnick Center’s UCLA Law LibGuide to Covid-19 and Food Law.

Meat Production and Covid-19 – Shortages Coming?

by Diana R. H. Winters

One of the country’s largest pork processing facilities announced that it is closing indefinitely.  The Smithfields Foods, Inc. plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota will close after almost 300 of its workers tested positive for coronavirus.  The plant employs 3700 workers and produces about four percent of the pork production in the United States.

Other major meat producers, including JBS USA and Tyson, have closed facilities after workers tested positive, and in some instances, died.

These closures illuminate significant worker safety problems at meat production plants.  Manufacturers have been slow to provide protective equipment to low-wage workers standing close together to process meat and have pressured employees to remain working even if sick.

Moreover, these closures are one of many Covid-19 food supply chain issues resulting from the shutdown, which also include the inability of food producers to repackage food meant for institutional or restaurant use for retail use.  The New York Times reported on the resulting massive food waste this past weekend.

All of the articles linked in this post can be found in the Resnick Center’s and the UCLA Law Library’s resource guide to Covid-19 and food law.  Here in the blog we will occasionally highlight important trends and stories we see emerging.  Please explore our guide, and forward relevant material for inclusion in the guide.

 

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.

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

 

 

Conference: FDA – Past, Present, and Future

Last Friday I attended a terrific conference sponsored by American University Washington College of Law’s Health Law and Policy Program and the Food and Drug Law Institute (FDLI) on the FDA – Past, Present, and Future.  From a discussion with four former FDA Commissioners—Califf, Hamburg, Kessler, and von Eschenbach—to a conversation with four former FDA chief counsels—Cooper, Hutt, Masoudi, Troy—the conference provided a fantastic perspective on the agency, both current and historical.  There was a keynote address by Henry T. Greely, the Director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford Law School, and a plethora of fantastic breakout sessions on drugs, devices, tobacco and cosmetics, food and animal products, and biological products.  You can find the agenda and conference papers here.  This was a conference for the ages, and I was lucky to be there.

Regeneration: Los Angeles Food Policy Council Discusses Healing and Transforming the Food System

Last week, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC) held a community networking event on the concept of regeneration, a broad idea that addresses healing and transforming our food system, and encompasses health, access, human rights, social justice, and animal welfare.  In its description of the event, the LAFPC wrote, “At LAFPC, we envision regeneration as a paradigm shift–one that goes beyond extraction, beyond inputs and outputs and even beyond sustainability. To be regenerative, our food systems need to not only feed people, but restore our planet. Regenerative food systems give birth to new opportunities for transforming our earth, our communities and the people who inhabit them.”

The program included talks by Clare Fox, the Executive Director of the L.A. Food Policy Council, and Gunnar Lovelace, the co-founder and co- CEO of Thrive Market, an online wholesale buying club for organic and natural foods, and “learning hubs,” which divided the attendees into small groups to discuss how regeneration resonated with various aspects of the food system.

The concept of regeneration goes beyond “organic,” “clean,” “natural,” and even beyond “sustainable,” and the conversation at the event ranged from how to indicate such a concept to consumers, to how to create incentives for big agriculture to embrace regeneration, and whether change would start at the individual or systemic level, or both.

To see more LAFPC events, see their website, here.

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