Today Keep Food Legal and Keep Food Legal Foundation are excited to announce the official launch of our new Pro Bono Program. With the launch of this program, we are currently seeking law firms, licensed attorneys, and student attorneys (law students) to take part in a variety of groundbreaking legal actions in support of food freedom.
"With the launch of our pro bono legal program, Keep Food Legal and Keep Food Legal Foundation are taking the next step in our evolution," says Keep Food Legal and Keep Food Legal Foundation executive director Baylen Linnekin. "By adding the opportunity to litigate for food freedom to our current focus areas of research, education, outreach, publishing, and--in the case of Keep Food Legal, advocacy--we expect to be able to more effect more direct and lasting changes."
Keep Food Legal and/or Keep Food Legal Foundation seek to partner with law firms and attorneys licensed to practice in at least one U.S. state on a variety of food-related legal matters. Specifically, we are currently seeking to partner with firms and licensed attorneys that wish to provide pro bono legal services--especially writing and filing amicus briefs--and with experienced attorneys interested in litigating in support of food freedom.
Keep Food Legal Foundation is also seeking one or more law students to serve as a student attorney on a per-semester basis. Students currently pursuing a J.D. or LL.M. at an accredited U.S. law school are welcome to apply. This position is unpaid, though students may be eligible to earn law-school credit.
Learn more about our new Pro Bono Program here.
Yesterday Keep Food Legal filed comments in support of Washington, DC's food trucks. We filed these comments in response to a draconian proposal by District regulators to adopt new rules that could make the popular mobile food vendors a rarity in much of the city's downtown area.
The primary issue in this third cycle of proposed regulations in the District was not complaints about the trucks themselves but about their customers. District regulators--and a small segment of the brick-and-mortar restaurant lobby--apparently believe food trucks just have too many people waiting to buy their food. Keep Food Legal focused in part on this absurd argument against food trucks in our comments:
[U]nder the [District's] so-called “ice-cream truck” rule, DCRA has long mandated that the potential customers of a mobile food vendor form a line (or queue) before a food truck may stop and serve food. DCRA has also required that a truck must leave a parking space without delay after serving the last customer in a queue. Hence, existing DCRA regulations have been an important driver of queues in places like Farragut Square because they effectively prohibit any mobile food vendor from parking and vending unless they do so at a place with a high concentration of people standing in a line.
The proposed regulations... seem designed to punish mobile food vendors because these vendors have been mindful of DCRA regulations and vend only when and where they find large numbers of potential customers standing in line to buy their food products. It would be unjust for the District to penalize mobile food vendors for complying with an absurd regulation like the ice-cream truck rule just because compliance with that absurd rule has perhaps created a fresh set of unintended consequences.
Read our complete comments here.
Our Baylen Linnekin was quoted in the Daily Caller last week on the issue of DC food trucks and their customers. Read Linnekin's remarks here.
In AEI Panel Appearance, Keep Food Legal Pushes Back Against Crony Capitalism in Food and Agriculture
Last week Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin took part in a lively panel discussion on crony capitalism in food and agriculture at the American Enterprise Institute.
As Linnekin defines the term, crony capitalism means that a food business’s success is often wrongly contingent upon the business maintaining a close relationship with legislators and regulators.
The panel was moderated by Washington Examiner columnist and AEI visiting fellow Tim Carney, and served as the inaugural event for AEI’s new Culture of Competition Project.
In addition to Linnekin, the panel featured fellow panelists (and fellow attorneys) Doug Povich, co-owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound food truck in Washington, DC, and Emily Broad Leib, who leads Harvard Law School’s great Food Law and Policy Clinic in Cambridge, MA.
"I’d previously sat on respective panels with Povich and Broad Leib," says Linnekin, "and greatly admire their respective work to defend and strengthen the rights of small food entrepreneurs."
Carney, likewise, was very pleased with the panel.
"I think the panel addressed a swath of issues where government intervention diminishes freedom, choice, and competition in the world of food," he says.
In Linnekin's remarks, which he called America’s Cronycopia, he discussed the frequent difficulties that exist in definitively identifying the phenomenon—which, after all, is hidden and often the result of phone calls and backroom dealings of which journalists and the public have little or no direct knowledge.
Linnekin's talk focused largely on farm subsidies—including new data he presented on how Red (GOP) states receive an inordinate share of these USDA handouts—which should be abolished in all forms immediately (regardless of whether they’re doled out proportionately, or whether Red or Blue states benefit most, or which food producers benefit or don't benefit from them).
You can read Linnekin's account of the panel in his latest Reason column.
Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin has appeared recently in a variety of media outlets to share our stance on many of the more controversial food issues today.
For example, Linnekin appeared on BBC Radio (audio starts at about 28:30) this week to discuss the state of the U.S. food safety system in the face of an ongoing scandal involving the misbranding of meat--in this case horsemeat being sold as ground beef--across the European Union. And earlier this month, a column by Linnekin critical of the FDA's newly proposed food safety rules appeared at Food Safety News, a leading food safety website. The column's fact-based criticism of the FDA's costly but ineffective proposals so riled many regulatory cheerleaders that it led Food Safety News to print a response by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)--a multi-million-dollar interest group that advocates for dramatic increases in food regulations at all levels of government.
Because new soda taxes and bans seemingly are proposed on a weekly basis, Linnekin also appeared on News/Talk 760 WJR (audio runs about 10-1/2 minutes) in Detroit to present our arguments against a petition to the FDA by CSPI urging the agency to place a hard cap on the amount of sweetener that can appear in beverages. He also appeared on WVMT NewsTalk 620 in Vermont to discuss Keep Food Legal's opposition to a potential soda tax in the state. (See more on that story--including our written testimony before the Vermont legislature--in the blog post at left.)
Other media appearances have focused on a variety of issues--including everything from the popular Dodge "God Made a Farmer" Super Bowl commercial (which Linnekin discussed in his weekly Reason column) and an appearance on New York University's WNYU radio to discuss the unintended consequences of farm subsidies.
Stay tuned--quite literally--for more from Keep Food Legal! And make sure to follow us on Twitter, where we always announce our scheduled media appearances before they happen.
Yesterday, in advance of today's hearing by the Vermont legislature's House Committee on Health Care on the potential levy of a soda tax in the state, Keep Food Legal submitted written testimony in opposition to any such proposal.
In our remarks, we argue that such a tax lacks support in the scientific literature, would have negative unintended consequences for Vermonters, and would infringe on consumer choice. And we applauded governor Peter Shumlin for his longstanding opposition to soda taxes.
After going into detail about the various flaws in the scientific arguments behind a soda tax, we urged Vermont legislators to reject such a tax because it
would take millions from struggling Vermont small businesses and consumers and hand it over to the state. Even its supporters admit that the proposed Vermont beverage tax is in many ways a revenue grab. For example, the Alliance for a Healthier Vermont claims a penny-per-ounce tax in Vermont “would raise $27 million/yr (sic)” and thus help cover the “state general fund budget deficit[.]”
A beverage tax would also harm the stellar national image of Vermont—a state known throughout the country for sweet offerings like pure maple syrup and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. And if Vermont were to tax sugar-sweetened drinks that come mainly from out of state, what’s to stop other states from imposing similarly unfair taxes on real maple syrup?
Instead of cracking down on beverage makers and consumer choice, Vermont voters should urge Sen. Sanders, Sen. Leahy, and Rep. Welch to push for the federal government to stop wasting taxpayer money by subsidizing sugar and corn (which is used to make high fructose corn syrup, also known as corn sugar). Doing so would save Vermonters millions of dollars every year while getting government out of the costly, inane, and self-defeating role of both promoting sugar consumption (through taxpayer subsidies) and penalizing sugar consumption (through taxes on sweetened beverages).
Read our complete comments here. At 7:10 a.m. on Monday morning, Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin will appear as a guest on WVMT radio--NewsTalk 620 AM--to discuss our opposition to the potential soda tax. You can listen live here.
Last week Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin appeared on the evening newscasts of Washington, DC's ABC and Fox affiliates. Linnekin was critical of two proposals that would restrict access to soda and other sweetened beverages in the District under the guise of combating obesity.
One proposal, floated by DC council member Mary Cheh, would attach an excise tax to purchases of soda. Critics--including Linnekin--have long argued that data does not support such a tax. The other, suggested by two other council members, would be modeled after New York City's wrongheaded and illegal ban on subjectively "large" portion sizes.
In his two television appearances, Linnekin argued on behalf of Keep Food Legal and its member and supporters in the District that enactment of these proposals would serve as little more than a tax increase on low-income consumers (who drink soda at higher rates than do middle- and upper-income consumers) that would not improve anyone's health. Furthermore, since obesity rates have been rising even as soda consumption has fallen over the past decade, the claimed causal connection for these taxes and bans simply does not exist, a point Linnekin made in his remarks on ABC affiliate WJLA:
Baylen Linnekin of the group “Keep Food Legal” says the District shouldn’t legislate what people should and shouldn’t eat or drink.
“Consumption rates of sweet drinks have been going down for a decade and yet obesity has been going up. Soda isn’t the culprit,” says Linnekin.
His Fox 5 comments focused on the rights of consumers to make their own decisions.
"It all boils down to food freedom of choice. It's not up to government to tell us what we should eat and shouldn't eat."
Read more about Keep Food Legal's efforts to promote beverage freedom of choice here.
Last week Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin was a guest on To the Point, a popular, issues-driven, nationally syndicated public-radio program. Linnekin appeared on the show, hosted by Warren Olney and produced jointly by KCRW in Santa Monica and Public Radio International, to discuss with Olney and several well-known experts the issue of whether government can control obesity.
From the show's description:
The agriculture industry has made food so cheap and so plentiful that one third of Americans are obese and another third overweight. Twenty six million people have Type 2 Diabetes, with 79 million more on the way. With a major push from First Lady Michelle Obama, the federal school lunch program has been revised to limit the intake of calories, require whole grains and double the serving of fruits and vegetables. New York's Mayor Bloomberg has banned extra-large soft drinks. With predictions that half the country will be obese by 2030, it's all about controlling a spreading pandemic. But there's also a backlash. Students and teachers in Kansas went on YouTube singing, “We are Hungry." A Republican Congressman has introduced the No Hungry Kids Act. Is it necessary for government to police the diets of America's children? Will it work? Is the Nanny State just going too far?
Linnekin's fellow panelists included Marion Nestle of New York University, Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, and Monica Eng of the Chicago Tribune.
"From a legal perspective, I think the problem is that the USDA is both promoting agriculture and agribusiness--usually big, corporate agribusiness--while at the same time trying to design a one-size-fits-all menu for American schoolkids," says Linnekin. "It's impossible to design thoughtfully a menu that can appeal to a football player, to a kid who doesn't get enough to eat at home, to someone who eats vegan, who eat kosher, who eats halal. That sort of approach is a ludicrous attempt to micromanage, and it's bound to fail."