July 12, 2013 Weekly Round Up

**This article is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.**

Here is a quick recap of some agricultural law stories making the news this week.

*Mexico to release water.  The International Boundary and Water Commission announced this week that the Mexican government has agreed to release some water to the United States from a Rio Grande tributary.  This release comes amidst escalating tensions between the United States and Mexico regarding compliance with a 1944 treaty.  Lawmakers and Commission officials say that Mexico’s announcement that will release water is promising, but the amount of water set to be released is simply not enough.  The treaty requires Mexico to provide the United States with approximately 1.75 million acre feet every 5 years from the Rio Grande, which equates to about 350,000 acre feet per year.  To date, Mexico is approximately 483,000 acre feet behind the requirement for the 2010-2015 cycle.  In June, lawmakers introduced bills in the House and Senate seeking to enforce the 1944 treaty and ensure Mexico’s compliance by requiring Mexico to provide information to the Secretary of State, or face the termination of funding from the United States for other projects.  [Read full article here.]

rio grande

*Agricultural groups sue to protect producers’ private information.  Last Friday, two agricultural groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency in federal court seeking to prevent the EPA from releasing personal information about farmers and ranchers.  The American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council requested a restraining order against the EPA to prevent the agency from providing personal information to environmental groups in response to Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests.   The Freedom of Information Act allows the public to seek information from governmental agencies, including the EPA.  Pursuant to FOIA, several environmental groups, including Fair Warning, TruthInFood.com, and the Dairy Information Center, sought information from the EPA, which includes personal information such as names, addresses and personal contact information for numerous farmers and ranchers.  The EPA is scheduled to respond to the document request sometime this week.  The agriculture groups argue that the personal information should be withheld for two main reasons.  First, the release of this personal information, including home addresses and contact information, violates the individual producers’ right to privacy.  Second, the groups cite safety concerns and fear that if the information ended up in the wrong hands, it could lead to theft or sabotage of farm equipment or other destruction or property.  This is not the first time this issue has arisen.  Earlier this year, the EPA responded to FOIA requests from three environmental groups, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, and The Pew Charitable Trusts, and released personal information for thousands of livestock and poultry producers in 29 states, including Texas.  [Read press release here and find briefing here.]

Meat industry groups file suit against USDA regarding country of origin labeling.  Several meat industry groups, including the American Meat Institute, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Council, and the Southwest Meat Association have filed suit against the USDA in federal court in Washington, DC.  The suit claims that the USDA regulations, which require identification of where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered and which prohibits mixing of meats from different countries, oversteps the agency’s authority.  The lawsuit alleges that the USDA labeling requirements violate the First Amendment, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the 2008 Farm Bill legislation.  [Read full article here.]

*  Cheat sheet to major Supreme Court decisions this term.  Tom Goldstein put together a “cheat sheet in plain English” of the major Supreme Court decisions this term, including a discussion of affirmative action, gay marriage, and the Voting Rights Act.  To read his article, click here.

* Connecticut passes GMO labeling law.  Connecticut has passed the first law in the United States that will require labeling of food contains any genetically modified ingredients.  Specifically, the law applies to products “intended for human consumption and seed or seed stock that is intended to produce food for human consumption.”  Under the law, any product falling within this definition is required to bear the label, “produced with genetic engineering.”  The law, however, does not immediately go into effect.  Instead, it will be applicable only after four other states, including one bordering Connecticut, enacts similar laws and the aggregate population of the Northeast states that have enacted similar labeling laws exceeds 20 million.  [Read entire bill here.]