Vol. 13, No. 4, January 2011
Food and Agricultural Law
People often don’t think about the law underlying parts of their daily routine until something goes bad. When it comes to eating, what goes bad is often the food itself, and there are many possible legal ramifications. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the lead federal department in handling agricultural regulation. It serves as the umbrella organization for a large number of federal programs and initiatives, including the Agricultural Research Service, the Food and Nutrition Service and the Food Safety and Inspection Service, among others. It also directs the National Agricultural Library, which has resources on subjects such as the marketing, history and regulation of food and agricultural products.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the federal agency that deals most directly with food safety for consumers. It implements the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, with responsibilities including the regulation of food labels and ensuring food safety. They also have jurisdiction over dietary supplements and other food additives.
The National Agricultural Law Center, based at the University of Arkansas, has a wide variety of legal resources. There is an AgLaw Reporter with case law by agricultural topic for the last several years, and a clearinghouse of links to individual states’ agriculture laws. It also provides access to research, with both food and agriculture-related Congressional Research Service Reports and original research articles from its staff members. Its glossary is useful for interpreting the jargon found in resources targeted to agriculture experts.
The United States Agricultural & Food Law and Policy Blog is a current awareness tool reporting on food and agricultural news at all levels of government. There is also a listing of other agricultural blogs which are focused on a particular area of the agriculture industry. Additionally, the blog posts announcements for upcoming agricultural conferences around the country. The American Agricultural Law Association, in conjunction with the aforementioned National Agricultural Law Center, maintains this resource.
The publication Food Safety News chronicles every FDA action regarding food, and it reports on current litigation of interest. There is also a section specifically for food recalls. The website is published by a law firm which handles food safety cases, but has many contributors with journalistic, rather than legal, backgrounds. There is a small “law library” section with articles targeted to specific reader groups.