Agriculture


Green reports that the InterAcademy Medical Panel is urging a low-carbon diet and lifestyle.  This should come as no surprise, but perhaps is long overdue.  Many things that are ‘low-carbon’ are much healthier than the alternatives (and both healthier for your personal biology and the environment).  Examples abound: red meat v. chicken, chicken v. vegetable, walk v. drive, etc.  Sometimes the choices aren’t so clear.

Sweden, with it’s new dietary guidelines that take the environment into account, is on the cutting edge.  These recommendations have been suggested for a whole host of environmental reasons in addition to acknowledged health benefits.  For example, the guidelines account for the high climate impact of beef due to methane released in cattle digestion, the depletion of many fish stocks, the energy-heavy refrigerated transport required by delicate fruits and vegetables,  the fact that fiber-rich root vegetables are more likely to be grown outdoors than in greenhouses requiring fossil fuels, that water-soaked rice fields produce more greenhouse gases than potato farms, that oil palms are often cultivated on former rainforest lands, and even the high carbon footprint of plastic water bottles.

Today I delivered the Stegner Center Young Scholar Lecture at the University of Utah entitled “The Environment, Food, and Law.”  Turnout was good and everyone has been wonderful in planning my visit.  The talk was about the environmental harms of the modern industrial food system, and discusses the role of informational regulation and structural change (e.g.,  access to different food models) in achieving a more sustainable food system.  This builds upon my forthcoming article in the Stanford Law Environmental Law Journal and my forthcoming piece in the University of Utah’s Journal of Land, Resources & the Environment.

The talk when relatively well, mostly because the topic of food and the environment has grown sexy thanks to folks like Michael Pollan, but the topic also proves challenging given the diverse and complex set of concerns and interests.  What is clear is that on the labeling front, I need to make a better case as to what circumstances eco-labeling is most effective, and, on the structural front, I still need better data on successful initiatives to create a sustainable food systems from a planning and/or implementation perspective.  Finally, I need to think harder about how this all relates to food costs.

Given the complexity of food and ag systems I’m really excited about the new book contract I’ve just signed with co-authors Professor Mary Jane Angelo (University of Florida) and Bill Eubanks entitled “Food, Agriculture Policy, and the Environment: History, Law & Proposals for Reform” (Environmental Law Institute Press, forthcoming 2012).

Tomorrow is talk #2 in Salt Lake City entitled, “Climate Policy and US-China Relations.”  More details here.

Vermont Law School to Open New Center
for Agriculture and Food Systems

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to invite you to be part of an exciting development at Vermont Law School. In the spring of 2011, we will open the Vermont Law Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, which will support advocates, agencies, food hubs, incubators, and farmers engaged in the creation of community-based agriculture systems in the U.S. and internationally.

I invite you to join in the launch of this new center through our 2011 Sustainable Food Systems Summer Scholar program. We will select a noted academic or practitioner in this field to spend two weeks in Vermont during our Summer Session to conduct research and participate in colloquia. Vermont Law School will pay travel expenses for the scholar, provide housing, and pay a $5,000 stipend. To apply, or to nominate a colleague, please send a cover letter and résumé to Anne Mansfield, associate director of the Environmental Law Center, at amansfield@vermontlaw.edu.

The Center for Agriculture and Food Systems will focus on legal and policy issues related to community-based agriculture, the regulation of food, the Farm Bill and agricultural subsidies, energy-efficient food production, energy independence for farmers, and other issues key to retaining a successful working landscape for rural communities. Vermont Law School is the ideal place to initiate this effort: Vermont is synonymous with the farming landscape and leads the nation in the sophistication of its effort to implement a sustainable agricultural system.

The center will be modeled after our highly successful Institute for Energy and the Environment and will build on recent efforts at VLS. We hosted a conference on Food, Fuel, and the Future of Farming, which brought over 200 scholars, activists, and farmers together. We convened a colloquium with the Northeast Organic Farming Association and Rural Vermont on farmers’ market insurance issues. And, we published The Farmer’s Handbook for Energy Self-Reliance, distributed to over 4,000 farmers and taken to over a dozen farmers’ forums and conferences nationally.

This spring, we will recruit a director for the center with national experience in the field who will work with our environmental faculty and Summer Session faculty, many of whom have produced scholarship in this area. Students from our Agricultural Law Society will assist in the work of the center, and many of them will join the ranks of our alumni who work with organizations such as the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Center for Food Safety, and the Vermont Department of Agriculture.

Please accept this invitation to apply or nominate a colleague to be the first Sustainable Food Systems Summer Scholar at the new Vermont Law Center for Agriculture and Food Systems.

Best regards,
Marc B. Mihaly
Professor of Law
Director, Environmental Law Center
Associate Dean, Environmental Law Program

164 Chelsea Street, PO Box 96 | South Royalton, VT 05068 US

First, Ben & Jerry’s decided to remove their ‘All Natural’ label due to public interest group pressure.  Now Log Cabin All-Natural Syrup’s label is being challenged since the product contains only4% maple and comes in a real maple syrup style jug.  Are caramel coloring, xanthan gum and citric acid natural?  The FDA regulates marketing claims (thus, Log Cabi is removing the coloring), and Vermont has it’s own maple syrup regulations, but the term “natural” is not defined from a production process standpoint under federal law like the word “organic” under the Organic Foods Production Act.

If this issue is of interest to you check out this article, Fish or frankenfish? FDA weighs altered salmon.  Also on my reading list is the book Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food.

UPDATE: Greenwire reports, “Consumer and environmental groups want genetically engineered salmon clearly labeled in the supermarket, but the Food and Drug Administration demurred yesterday, saying that such labeling is outside its rules.  FDA is considering whether to approve the sale of salmon that are engineered to grow to full size in half the time as their normal counterparts.  If approved, the fish would be the first genetically engineered animal to enter the food supply. FDA said its rules do not allow labeling of a food merely because it is genetically engineered, and there needs to be outside reasons such as modified taste, nutrition or safety to warrant the action.”

Dan Farber on Legal Planet posts about when an environmental impact statement is necessary for USDA approval of genetically-modified crops, and Friday’s federal court decision revoking the USDA approval of genetically modified sugar beets for violating the National Environmental Policy Act.  The concern is that, absent safeguards and due to cross-pollination, genetically-modified crops will over-run conventional crops, i.e., farmers won’t be able to produce non-GMO crops.  This issue has garnered attention of late with the Supreme Court’s decision in Monsanto v. Geerston Seed, and Vermonters should find this case of interest since both the sugar beet and Monsanto (about Roundup Ready alafalfa) cases included High Mowing Organic Seeds of Wolcott, Vermont as a plaintiff.  Their involvement should be of no surprise given that that area of Vermont has been home to, according an article to author Bill McKibben, “the most interesting agriculture experiment in the country,” where neighbors are eating solely from locally produced foods rather than industrial processed foods.

[Note: In writing this post, I learned of a book I will ask the Vermont Law Library to acquire, The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food by Ben Hewitt.]

The 2nd Annual Growing Local Fest, a celebration of local food and culture, will be on Saturday, September 11, from 2-7pm at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Green in Montpelier.  The event is being organized by the Central Vermont Food Systems Council (an outcome of enVision Montpelier).

In addition to live music, food- and ag-related workshops, local food vendors, and a beer tent, there will also be a HOME BREW CONTEST, a PESTO CONTEST, and a YOUTH FARMERS’ MARKET!

For the most up-to-date details and schedule of the event, go to www.cvfsc.wordpress.com.

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