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.

Forthcoming Scholarship: “A Palatable Option for Sugar-Coated Palates”

by Diana Winters

Some good news!  UCLA Law 2L Nicholas Miller’s article, “A Palatable Option for Sugar-Coated Palates: Labeling as the Libertarian Paternalism Intervention that American Consumers Need”, will be published in the University of Florida Journal of Law & Public Policy early in 2021.

Nicholas is a second year law student at UCLA, where he is involved in a range of activities including OUTLaw and the Dukeminier Awards Journal of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law. As the son of a caterer and a lawyer, he was naturally drawn to food law, which combines his love of food and his desire to understand the legal frameworks that protect society and guide behavior. He chose to write about labeling – specifically of sugar content – because it raises the issue of how to balance progressive public health policy and the historically American fear of paternalistic overreach by the government. He sees this dynamic of public health initiatives that impede on individual liberty at play now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, and hopes his analysis will help advance the dialogue on how best to guide people to make good decisions about their health.

Here is the abstract for the article:

Addressing nutritional health for Americans has proven uniquely challenging in a marketplace flooded with non-nutritious food products.  Compounding the issue, consumers consistently misjudge the contents of these processed foods and undervalue their pernicious effect.  At the same time, consumers are wary of overly intrusive or paternalistic government interventions, such as bans and portion limits.  This paper reflects on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of previous attempts by the FDA to combat public health threats.  Finally, the paper proposes a path forward, with growing political momentum, that builds on the innovative food labeling models being tested in markets around the world.

We can’t wait to see this in print.

*If you would like to have forthcoming food law scholarship featured in the blog, please contact Diana Winters.*

Resnick Center Launches Covid-19 and Food Law Resource Guide

Today, the Resnick Center in conjunction with the UCLA School of Law Hugh and Hazel Darling Law Library launched a Covid-19 and Food Law Resource Guide.  The guide will provide resources on the intersection of Covid-19 and food law and policy for scholars, researchers, and officials, which comports with the Resnick Center’s mission to provide cutting-edge legal research and scholarship in food law and policy.

This library guide will consist mainly at its start of substantive popular press articles, links to various open-access repositories of media reports, and helpful government sites. Over time, this library guide will be populated by legal scholarship and reflective, analytical publications relevant to legal scholarship that will be organized by subject matter and in some cases annotated.

If you come across interesting material at the intersection of Covid-19 and food law and policy, please submit it to be considered for this guide to the Resnick Center.

Food Law Conference – March 2-3

by Diana R. H. Winters

I will be attending CLE International’s Annual Food Law Conference on March 2-3, 202, in San Francisco.  This is a terrific conference, which I highly recommend.

This is one of the few food law conferences where you can hear from both defense and plaintiff’s counsel, industry associations, and advocacy organizations.  I learned so much last year.   Michael T. Roberts, the Resnick Center‘s Executive Director, is a Co-Chair, and I am speaking on state law regulation on Tuesday, March 3.  The featured speaker is Laura Eichhorn Kurpad, Esq., Associate Chief Counsel US Food and Drug Administration, to give us views from the FDA.  You can find more info here: https://web.cvent.com/event/091ab345-25cd-4928-adf0-9212b7768bd5/summary?RefId=cle.com%20more%20info

Seriously, this conference is the cream of the crop!  Hope to see you there.

ACLU sues Arkansas for “meat” labeling law

by Diana R. H. Winters

The ACLU, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the Good Food Institute are suing Arkansas on behalf of The Tofurky Company to challenge a new law that restricts producers of plant-based food products from using words like “meat,” “burger,” or “sausage” to label these items.  The complaint argues that the law restricts commercial speech, and thereby violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and the dormant Commerce Clause.  The law “creates consumer confusion where none existed before in order to impeded competition.”

The stated purpose of the Arkansas law is to “protect consumers from being misled or confused by false or misleading labeling of agricultural products that are edible by humans.”  Tofurky’s complaint states that there is actually no evidence that consumers are confused about plant-based meats, nor does the Arkansas law point to any such evidence.  Moreover, existing laws, both federal (FDCA, FMIA, PPIA, and FTCA) and state, prohibit misbranding and deceptive marketing.

The lawsuit asks for a declaration that the Arkansas law is unconstitutional and an injunction against its implementation.

Along with questions about state power, this case raises questions regarding the “reasonable” consumer.  Does a consumer buying a veggie burger think that burger contains meat?  Or that Tofurky deli slices made with “slow-smoked tender plant-based non-gmo ingredients,” are meat?  In most circumstances, the answer is no.  Consumers of plant-based meat products actively seek these items.  If we expect consumers to know that a “crunchberry” isn’t a real berry, and to have the wherewithal to check the nutrition facts label for the sugar content in a product labeled “healthy,” surely we can trust a consumer to understand that a veggie burger contains no animal meat.

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.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb resigns

by Diana R. H. Winters

Much of the coverage of the resignation of FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb highlights his work to regulate the e-cigarette and tobacco industries and his mixed record on the opioid addiction epidemic.  See here, here, and here, for example.  Despite criticism for delaying certain e-cigarette regulations, Commissioner Gottlieb stood out in the Trump administration for his willingness to regulate and to challenge the tobacco, e-cigarette, and drug industries.  Similarly, and surprisingly, the FDA under Gottlieb continued to move ahead with certain Obama era nutrition policy initiatives and began to spearhead some of its own.  The agency moved ahead with changes to the nutrition facts label, with requirements that certain restaurants post calories on menus, and with an FDA initiative to reduce sodium levels in the food supply.  Moreover, in a speech to the National Food Policy Conference delivered in March 2018, Gottlieb outlined a new FDA nutrition strategy, designed to reduce the toll that poor nutrition takes on Americans’ health.  Gottlieb explained that the FDA would “use our tools and authorities to create better ways of communicating nutrition information to consumers so they can be empowered to make good choices. And we’ll advance new ways to make science-based claims that provide more incentives for food manufacturers to produce products with more healthful attributes.”

What’s next for the FDA?  As the FDA’s tobacco and e-cigarette initiatives are now up in the air, so are those regarding nutrition policy.

Street Vending Decriminalized in L.A.

Just a note to follow up on our guest post by Joseph Pileri on October 3, 2018, discussing new legislation legalizing street vending across California.  This week, the Los Angeles City Council finalized an ordinance legalizing and regulating street vending, ahead of the state law discussed by Pileri that takes effect on January 1, 2019.  The city will implement a permit system, granting site-specific permits to vendors.  This system will take a year to develop, and until then, Los Angeles will regulate street vendors by requiring them to comply with certain rules and standards.

 

The foodralist paradigm

by Diana R. H. Winters

Laurie Beyranevand at the Vermont Law School and I wrote a paper about striking a balance between federal and state decision-making in the area of food policy, called Retooling American Foodralismand the University of Pennsylvania’s Regulatory Review wrote a thoughtful analysis of the paper here.  In the article, author Nicholas Bellos writes:

“[F]or an industry as sprawling and complex—and vital—as the nation’s agricultural sector, should states be the principal actors ensuring consumer safety?

In a recent paper, two scholars argue that they should. University of Vermont Law School’s Laurie Beyranevand and University of Indiana Robert H. McKinney School of Law’s* Diana Winters say that more states should take initiative like California to enact food safety regulations of their own, rather than depend on federal regulators to lead the way. The balance between federal and state decision-making—what they call “foodralism”—needs to tilt more toward state governments, they argue. States need to fill the gaps in the current patchwork of U.S. food regulations and serve as laboratories for developing new rules and standards.”

Retooling American Foodralism is forthcoming in the American Journal of Law and Medicine.

 

*Although I used to be at I.U. McKinney, I am now the Assistant Director of Scholarship at the Resnick Center for Food Law & Policy at UCLA Law.

 

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