Food law is the collection of laws and regulations that govern food production, distribution and consumption. Food laws aim to protect consumers and provide for the efficient growth and use of food in the United States. Food attorneys focus their careers on helping clients comply with food laws and regulations. In addition, they work on behalf of government agencies making or enforcing food laws and policies.
Food laws cover a variety of topics
Most people know that food laws govern pesticide use, tariffs on agricultural imports and restaurant cleanliness. Food law also covers other topics that some consumers may not have considered. For example, the Food and Drug Administration regulates the production of bottled water. Food laws regulate what supplement producers can claim about the effectiveness of their products. The U.S. food stamp program is part of food law and run under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food laws can even cover constitutional law topics like whether the federal government can lawfully regulate local farm production.
Where do food laws come from?
There are federal, state and local food laws. The federal government passes laws like the Food and Drug Administration Revitalization Act. Through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal government creates additional regulations and takes steps to enforce federal food law. There are also extensive state laws that typically govern topics like packaging, distribution, adulteration and fraud in the food industry.
Food attorneys help their clients comply with food law
How a food lawyer helps their client comply with food laws starts with understanding the client’s business operates. A meat processor and distributor has a different set of laws and regulations to follow than a restaurant. Likewise, a farmer has a different set of laws to follow than a store owner who needs to comply with food assistance laws. Meeting the client’s need requires understanding what laws apply to the client’s industry and activities.
The Food and Drug Administration
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the federal agency with the authority to regulate food safety. The United States Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act created the FDA in 1938. Congress passed the U.S. Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in reaction to the death of 100 people from a medicine. The Act defines food, dietary supplements and food additives and then creates laws that govern activities related to food. It creates both civil and criminal penalties for violations of federal food laws. In addition, the Act creates a naming system for food color additives. The FDA also regulates cosmetics and drugs. Their office provides information about how to start a food-related business.
The FDA sees their organization as a protector of food safety in the United States. In addition to protecting the public from natural diseases that can occur in food production and distribution, the FDA must also take measures to protect the public from bio terrorism and other intentional attacks on the food supply. The Administration also works to facilitate the development of new technology that makes food production safer and more affordable for the public.
The Food and Drug Act of 1906
Even before Congress created the FDA, the Food and Drug Act of 1906 prohibited dishonest labeling and manufacturing in food sales. The Food and Drug Act allows federal regulation of a range of products that together make up approximately 25 percent of the U.S. domestic product. The Food and Drug Act of 1906 is the precursor to the United States Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
The Meat Inspection Act of 1906
Congress passed the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 (FMIA) at the same time they passed the Food and Drug Act of 1906. The Act outlaws misleading labels in meat packaging. The Act calls for strict regulations for meat inspections during the production and packaging process. Meat imports must also follow similar standards. The Act allows officials to perform inspections.
Nutrition labeling on food products
The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) is a 1990’s law that allows the FDA to regulate food nutrition labeling. Under the NLEA, the FDA may regulate what claims food sellers make. For example, the FDA can require producers to meet standards if they want to claim a product is high in fiber or low in fat. Among other things, food sellers must report the trans fatty acid content in their product.
Although the NLEA doesn’t place the same regulations on restaurants that it places on food retailers, many restaurants voluntarily report nutrition information. There are also state laws that require food sellers to report nutrition information under certain circumstances. Attorneys who practice food law must ensure that their clients comply with reporting requirements as they package and market their products.
Pesticide regulations in food law
Another way that the government regulates food production is through the regulation of pesticide use. The Food Quality Protection Act is a 1996 law that standardizes pesticide regulations. The Act changes the way that the federal government approves pesticide use with special protections intended for vulnerable members of society like infants. The law covers testing and risk assessments. The Food Quality Protection Act has led to limitations and complete bans on certain types of pesticide use.
Food recalls and expanded powers of the FDA
The 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act expands the power of the FDA to issue recalls. The Act is in response to reports from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that claim millions of people get sick each year because of food-related illnesses. The Food Safety Modernization Act allows the FDA to take proactive measures to prevent food-related illnesses and deaths before they occur.
Similarly, the Public Health Security and Bio-terrorism Preparedness Response Act allows federal authorities to seize and quarantine food if they believe that it poses a public safety risk. Food importers must also take steps to protect their products from diseases and other contaminants. Food importers pay a registration fee that goes towards inspection and enforcement activities.
Who practices food law?
Food lawyers primarily work for food producers and government agencies. Any business that’s involved in food production must comply with food laws. Food producers, distributors and retailers rely on attorneys to help them with the many bodies of law that might apply to their work. A business that’s sizable might employ an attorney as in-house counsel. Attorneys who specialize in food law may also work in private practice and work with their clients on specific matters as they arise.
Food law is largely administrative. It involves compliance. Food producers must ensure that they comply with the law as they conduct business. They must identify the laws and follow them. Food lawyers help their clients with all aspects of compliance. They help their clients react if they’re accused of violating a federal or state law. Lawyers may also work as lobbyists in order to present issues to legislators on behalf of their clients.
Attorneys who specialize in food law may work for the federal government. They may enforce regulations and work with inspectors. Federal food lawyers may take enforcement actions when they believe food producers violate federal laws. State governments also employ food lawyers to work on enforcement actions regarding state laws.
Food laws are complex, and they come from a variety of sources. Whether an attorney specializes in only food law or includes it in a broader practice depends on the type of clients that they serve. An attorney that works for a large food producer may focus solely on food law issues. On the other hand, an attorney that helps a convenience store with an allegation of food benefit fraud might have a broader practice in criminal law or in a variety of administrative law topics.
Why Become a Food Lawyer?
Food law is a large component of operations for any food-related business. Food attorneys are valued by their clients. Attorneys who work in private practice and attorneys who work for a government entity have the opportunity to serve the public good by protecting the interest of their clients. Food regulations in the United States are sizable and significant. There’s a lot of work to do for knowledgeable attorneys who specialize in the field.
Food law and the Legal Profession
There are federal, state and local regulations that impact the production, distribution, marketing and consumption of food. Food regulations touch approximately 25 percent of the U.S. economy. For businesses in the food industry, food law means knowing what laws exist and creating a plan to comply with them. Food lawyers work to help their clients do business lawfully and efficiently.