In 2010, a bevy of court decisions and actions by Congress impacted agricultural law.

In mid-February, Farm Press spoke with Roger McEowen, director of Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation (CALT), about what he sees as the most significant agriculture-related developments over the past year.

In reverse order of importance, his top five picks are:

(for picks 6 through 10, see Part One)

5. Bona fide purchaser defense under Superfund

“We tend not to think of Superfund in an agricultural context. But it can be very important.

When you buy agricultural land, someone in the past may have placed hazardous chemicals on that property. There are a lot of ag properties with a remote area that was used in the past as a dump: pesticide and herbicide containers, oil, all of the types of chemicals used on a farm…

Many of the chemicals and substances used in a farming operation are classified as ‘hazardous’ waste under the Superfund law.

“When you buy land, the last thing you want is to be held liable for the conduct of someone who owned, or operated, the property before you. There are ways to avoid that liability. One of those is to conduct ‘all appropriate inquiry’ concerning the status of that property. In other words, you ask the seller a list of questions and get them to certify there’s no problem with the property, they know of no problem. … That way, if a problem is discovered once you own the property, you won’t be held liable.

“Well, we’ve never really had the framework for figuring out what it takes to be a bona fide purchaser and what is the defense. … We now at least have a framework for how to establish a bona fide purchaser defense.”

4. FDA Food Safety Modernization Act

The Food Safety Modernization Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in late 2010.

“It’s the biggest change in U.S. food safety law since the 1938 federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act.

“It heightens inspections by, about, a factor of seven over the next five years of ‘food facilities.’ That will be paid through a tax on those facilities which will be passed on to consumers in higher food costs…

“All food facilities have to produce ‘risk-based preventative controls’ and undertake periodic hazard analysis.

“Meat, poultry and dairy products are covered under different legislation.

“Also, the FDA is given mandatory recall authority over covered food products, except alcoholic beverages. Most food companies will have to write and implement food safety protocols designed to minimize potential food hazards. The cost of that additional administrative burden will, again, be passed on to consumers.”

The act “also provides whistle-blower protections for employees of employers engaged in the manufacture, process, packing or importation of food. And the FDA has the power to ‘harmonize’ U.S. food and dietary supplement industries with internationally recognized standards. That means basic food staples will be genetically modified. Indeed, Monsanto was a major supporter of the act because of that provision.

“It will cost about $1.4 billion over the next four years. The additional costs to the private sector haven’t been estimated.

“The thing that’s interesting is that Congress passed this and the president signed it into law in spite of data showing the incidence of food-borne illness has dropped by a third over the past 14 years.”