Pesticide suits, foreign ag land ownership key issues for farmers
By Jay Stone, Georgia Farm Bureau
Macon, GA - Thousands of court cases with the potential for eight-figure penalties make it vital that the agricultural sector keep abreast of legal developments. The National Agricultural Law Center (NALC), funded through federal appropriations via the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, performs that function and works with a wide variety of farm stakeholder groups, including Farm Bureau, to help them develop policy stances.
NALC Director Harrison Pittman provided an update on pesticide litigation and a survey of state laws addressing the ownership of American agricultural land by foreign entities during the Georgia Farm Bureau Commodity Conference in Athens on Aug. 10.
Pittman gave an overview of the federal regulatory process and the EPA’s pesticide registration process under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). He said the EPA in the past approved many products as a matter of routine, but in the last two decades it has become increasingly difficult to get pesticides approved, in part because of increasing attention being paid to how FIFRA relates to requirements under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“I rank this at the top of issues confronting production agriculture. Products like Roundup, Dicamba, and other things that are commonly used in farming operations are critically important to maintaining, the level of productivity that everybody's depended upon,” Pittman said.
A key focal point in the pesticide lawsuits is referred to “failure to warn” under state laws. Plaintiffs’ arguments are that pesticide manufacturers knew of health risks and did not provide warnings. Courts are currently being tasked with determining whether FIFRA preempts state law in those cases. If it does, most cases essentially go away, Pittman said. If FIFRA does not preempt state failure to warn laws, then many cases can proceed.
“This preemption question is a really huge deal, and really it’s one of the most critical issues to watch because it is going to be a huge factor in the availability of [pesticide ] products going forward depending on how this all plays out,” Pittman said.
Monsanto has already paid out nearly $11 billion in damages to approximately 100,000 plaintiffs, and an additional 30,000 plaintiffs’ cases are currently being considered.
Pittman also discussed the evolution of state laws banning foreign ownership of agricultural land.
“Georgia's had an experience with this. There were a couple of proposals,” Pittman said. “They did not make it out of the legislature. I know that it’s likely to come back up.”
Currently, no state has a ban on foreign ownership. There are 24 states that have laws that restrict foreign ownership of agricultural land. Five states have no restrictions, and 21 states, including Georgia, have laws that allow foreign ownership.
In 2023, 12 states (Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Utah) enacted foreign ownership laws.
On Dec. 31, 2021, the latest date for which official data was available, there were 40,031,308 acres of U.S. private agricultural land owned by foreign entities, which was 2.4 million fewer acres than on Dec. 31, 2020. In 2021, China owned 383,935 of U.S. agricultural land.
In Georgia, 3.9% of agricultural land is under foreign ownership. The two largest portions of that are 271,189 acres owned by German interests and 217,684 by Canadians. Rounding out the top five nationalities of foreign owners of Georgia ag land are the United Kingdom (43,035 adcres), the Netherlands (28,556 acres) and Italy (7,816 acres). Entities from all other countries combine to own 647,008 acres of Georgia ag land.
In another legal development, the Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) act was introduced in the U.S. Senate on June 15 and the U.S. House of Representatives on June 30. The bill would prohibit state and local jurisdictions from interfering with production of commodities in other states.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) in the House and Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kansas) in response to the Supreme Court decision upholding California’s Proposition 12. the California law requires animal products sold in the state to come from animals raised under conditions that conform with California’s standards for humane animal treatment.