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Research: Farm Bill Law Enterprise

News Story

Professor Margot Pollans is leading the Elisabeth Haub School of Law’s efforts in proposing policy recommendations for the upcoming 2018 United States farm bill.

As the Director of the Pace Food Law Initiative, Elisabeth Haub School of Law Professor Margot Pollans has a lot on her plate. However, she’s often more focused on how food items get onto all of our plates—in an efficient, affordable, sustainable, and environmentally-conscious manner.

Pollans, who was recently named to the New York City Food Policy Center’s “40 Under 40” rising stars in NYC food policy, spearheaded the effort for Pace’s Food Law Initiative to join the Farm Bill Law Enterprise (FBLE). The Farm Bill Law Enterprise is collection of six schools—Pace, Harvard, Yale, Duke, UCLA, and the University of Vermont—collaborating together to study the United States farm bill. The farm bill, which is federal legislation that’s passed every 57 years, governs all major federal agricultural policy including subsidies, conservation policy, and nutrition.

“The goal is to do an analysis of the current farm bill, and to develop a set of recommendations on proposals for reform, focusing on equity, health, and sustainability in the food system,” says Pollans.

As a participating partner, Pace has received funding from the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic to conduct background research and develop potential policy solutions on the farm bill’s conservation programs. These programs provide farmers with technical and financial support to adopt agricultural practices that are more protective of public health and more sustainable. With the help of LLM Fellow Renner Walker, who took the lead on several aspects of the research, the Pace Food Law Initiative has spent the past eight months producing Pace’s portion of FBLE’s report, which will evaluate the entire farm bill. 

Timing is key here. The current farm bill, enacted in 2014, expires in 2018. 

“Congress has just started the reauthorization process. Both the House and Senate have been holding hearings this spring to begin the process of developing the 2018 farm bill,” says Pollans.

Pollans explains that Pace's portion of the report essentially boils down to groups of policy recommendations, with the aim of figuring out how legislation can help farmers provide more sustainable products and operations.

“One focus of the report is rural economic development, another aspect focuses on community health in agricultural communities. Another is on soil and water health—which is key to long-term sustainability of agricultural operations. We focused on policy recommendations that support those missions and thinking about how can federal policy help farmers do those things better,” says Pollans.

Because of the looming legislation, Pollans notes that the research conducted by the Food Law Initiative (and in turn, the entire FBLE) could be best understood in two parts—the short-term components, which largely focus on how the upcoming farm bill might feasibly improve the food system, and longer-term, more aspirational initiatives.

“The short-term component is thinking about developing recommendations that can be used for advocacy around the 2018 farm bill itself,” says Pollans. “The long-term component is thinking about transitions to sustainability and equity in the food system, things that are going to take a long time.”

As the process heats up and lobbying begins to intensify, Pollans hopes that both the purpose of FBLE and its strength in numbers will enable it to have a positive impact on the newest round of legislation.

“We’re hoping that we can play a role in shaping how this unfolds,” says Pollans. “One of the reasons to do this as a consortium of law schools is that this is the legal academic community speaking with one voice about what makes good academic policy. Hopefully, with six schools, we can become an influential voice.”

While the work of the Pace Food Law Initiative and FBLE may potentially have a significant impact on food policy, Pollans notes that this isn’t the only thing on Pace’s metaphorical food law plate. In addition to Pace’s involvement FBLE, the University has made major strides with the Food and Beverage Law Clinic, and is engaging in collaborative work with the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University. Furthermore, a number of professors—including David Cassuto, JD, Jason Czarnezki, JD, and Pollans—are currently conducting their own independent food law research.

“This project is just one of a number of food-law related research efforts that the Law School is engaged in,” says Pollans.

While Pollans and Pace Food Law certainly have their work cut out for them, they also have the tools—and sustainable agricultural ideas—to truly make an impact for decades to come.