Federal Laws and Regulations

The federal government passes legislation, issues regulations, and establishes and supports policies that impact the agricultural and food processing industry on national issues, typically interstate in nature.  Many of the laws and regulations that are passed at a national level are implemented by state and local governments, or agencies of the federal government in district, state, or local offices. The federal government also enters into cooperative and/or work-sharing agreements with state and local government to implement federal agricultural and food processing law and policy.  The principal federal agencies at the national level that implement federal agricultural and food processing law are the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), and the United States Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), but there are many others.  

The federal government and its agencies legislates and regulates in a wide variety of agricultural and food processing areas.  The portion of the national budget attributable to the USDA was $144 billion in 2019 and $150 billion in 2020. These areas of endeavor include without limitation the following: crop subsidies (to counteract market swings in the agricultural industry); crop insurance; disaster relief (to offset the effect of natural disasters on agricultural production); land retirement programs (taking land out of production for environmental purposes); working land conservation programs (establishing land conservation practices on land that remains in production); grazing land programs (establishing conservation practices on grazing land); other environmental regulation (e.g., the Endangered Species Act and the Clear Air and Water Act); the regulation of Concentrated Animal Feeding Lots (CAFO’s); loans to agricultural producers (typically from the Farm Service Agency and/or the Farm Credit System);  labor laws relating to agricultural production including but not limited to the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Programs; laws and regulations relating to stockyards (the Packers and Stockyard Act), laws and regulations concerning interstate brokers in fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts; laws and regulations relating to food safety and wholesomeness (administered by the FDA, the USDA, and other agencies); laws, regulations, and marketing orders concerning size, quality, containers, and marketing of agricultural products; and laws and regulations concerning organic foods (Organic Foods Production Act of 1990).


State Laws and Regulations

California takes the laboring oar in passing, implementing, and enforcing laws and regulations relating to the agricultural and food processing industries.  California sometimes implements or enforces federal standards. The California Department of Food and Agricultural, as well as the California Department of Public Health and other agencies implement and enforce state law.  Not infrequently, district, county commissioner, and local agencies also enforce state law.

California  laws and regulations touching agriculture and food processing cover a wide array of subject areas, including the following; size, shape, quality, container, packaging, and marketing provisions; laws and regulations relating to plant quarantine; pest control; agricultural associations and district fairs and development activities; agricultural liens; processing standards and procedures; agricultural labor laws; animal ownership, rights and liabilities; boundaries and fences, conservation of agricultural law (e.g., Williamson Act); contracts; cooperatives (agricultural); direct marketing (farmer’s markets, farm stands, etc.); farm leases & sharecropping; labeling of agricultural product; marketing associations and cooperatives; nurseries and nursery stock; regulation of produce dealers; slaughterhouses; water rights.

Many of the foregoing laws and regulation are implemental or enforced by the Department of Agricultural pursuant to detailed provisions found in the California Food & Agricultural Code and related regulation. (California Food & Agriculture Code (“F&A”) sections 101 et seq.)  In this regard, state food and agriculture administration is performed by the Department of Food and Agriculture under the Secretary of Food and agriculture as its executive officer,  and by the state Board of Food & Agriculture. (F&A 102-104, 901) The Board inquires into the needs of the agricultural industry and, together with the secretary, confers with and advises the Governor as to how the department may best serve the industry and consumers of agricultural products.  (F&A 951) The Board may conduct investigations and hearings, and prosecute actions concerning all matters and subjects under the jurisdiction of the department. (F&A 952) Local administration is by county agricultural commissioners, who are in charge of county departments of agriculture. (F&A 2001 et seq.)  The legislature has also created certain councils and commissions to aid in the administration of specified phases of agriculture: examples include dairy, beef, and grapes.  (See, e.g., F&A 6401 et seq. (dairy); F&A 64501 et seq. (beef), F&A 65500 et seq. (grapes)) 

The California Department of Food and Agricultural has the general duty to promote and protect agriculture within the state, (F&A 401), and to execute the provisions of the Food & Agricultural Code and other laws. (F&A 404)  In addition, the Code provides for a number of specific duties, including without limitation, the following:

  • the prevention of fraudulent or deceptive practices in the marketing of agricultural commodities and products (F&A 402);] 

.the protection and development of agricultural production and rural agricultural economies (F&A 401.5); 

the prevention of diseases and insect and weed infestations (F&A 403);

  • the reproduction and distribution of biological control organisms (F&A 405);
  • the collection and dissemination of information relating to agriculture (F&A 406, 431, 432, 4234, 461, 481, 491, 492);
  • the promotion of research and education and the provision of technical information

and support concerning agricultural practices, including without limitation sustainable agricultural practices and ecologically-based pest management alternatives (F&A 500, 501, 550 et seq,)

  • the maintenance of laboratories for the testing, examining, and diagnosis of livestock and poultry diseases (F&A 520 et seq.);

The department has the power to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other states in pest or disease investigations inside and outside the state in order to protect California’s agricultural industry, and for the purpose of the control or eradication of plant and animal diseases and pests. (F&A 481; 7 USC 450)

More generally, California in the exercise of its “police power” may enact and enforce reasonable and appropriate agricultural regulations in order to protect the general public and enhance the agricultural industry, including those enacted or enforced by the California Department of Food & Agriculture, or otherwise.  Such laws and regulations include without limitation 

.the licensing or registration of persons involved in various aspects of the agricultural industry, including operators of meat processing establishing, processors of farm products, dealers in pesticides and commercial fertilizers, persons engaged in pest control.  (F&A 19010 et seq., 55521 et seq., 55481 et seq., 12811 et seq., 14591 et seq., 11701 et seq, 11901, 12101 et seq., 12251 et seq.)

.the development of standards for fruits, nuts, and vegetables, field crops, sees, seeds, and nursery stock.  (F&A 42501 et seq., 52001 et seq., 52251 et seq., 53301 et seq.)

. the requirement of proof of ownership of person marketing fruits, nuts, or vegetables for commercial purposes over a specified quantity must provide the buyer or transport with proof of ownership.  (F&A 861).

.the establishment of taxation and assessment for certain commodities, feed, pesticides, as well as the authorization of agricultural commission to establish their own assessments on agricultural producers.(F&A 15061, 12841 et seq., 68101 et seq. (kiwifruit commission), 73251 et seq. (naval orange commission), 75360 et seq. (apple commission)

.the establishment of criminal liability for a violation of any provision of the Food & Agricultural Code except as expressly provided.  (F&A 9)


Local Laws and Regulations

Each county in California has its own department of agriculture under the control of the county agricultural commissioner.  (F&A 2001, 2002) The commissioner’s duties include without limitation, cooperating in the study and control of agricultural pests, developing exhibits and other information for public dissemination of information concerning the work of the commissioner’s department, the resources of the county, or the products of the county.   (F&A 2274, 2276, 2277, 2278, 2279)