What is Agricultural Law?

Sherry Davis Zander

Agricultural law, sometimes called ag law, encompasses more than just basic food and farming. Under the umbrella of agricultural law there are laws on land rights, water rights, pesticides, and fertilizer. There are laws that relate to finance, insurance, marketing, infrastructure, and labor, as well. Agriculture law also typically falls under the heading of environmental law, which deals with energy, forestry, fisheries, and natural resources.

Land rights fall under agricultural law.
Land rights fall under agricultural law.

National Agricultural Law Center (NALC) is the only institution in the United States that functions as the source for research and information on agricultural law. The center is federally funded with direct ties to the U.S. National Agricultural Library, which falls under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Center. If a consumer has a question about agriculture law, the NALC Website is the place to inquire. The organization’s online repository provides volumes of information not found anywhere else, which makes it an invaluable resource for law as it relates to all things agriculture.

Agricultural laws includes the use of pesticides.
Agricultural laws includes the use of pesticides.

An example of agricultural law in action in the U.S. would be the recalls for peanut butter in January 2009, and the Queen Victoria and Tubby-labeled spinach in September 2009. Salmonella was found to be present in both products that already had been distributed on the market. Agricultural law regulates outbreaks like this, and forced a recall of both products. Several U.S. agencies coordinate efforts when these types of incidents occur.

If a recall is not issued voluntarily by companies distributing the infected products, the U.S. government usually steps in and enforces a recall. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are the two main governmental entities that coordinate federal efforts to address outbreaks relating to agricultural food poisoning. Had stores and distributors of the peanut butter and spinach not recalled and removed the infected products from their shelves, they could have faced retribution from the federal government.

Agricultural law is a complex subject. A simple guide to helping remember what ag law applies to is to think of things that deal with farms, i.e. produce, animal products, grain products, farmland, and anything grown or harvested. Each one of these falls under the heading of agricultural law and makes up a large portion of the field.

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