The Chicago Bar Association (CBA) has created a food law committee to focus on legal issues stewing at every stage of the food production chain.
Chicago attorney Kevin A. Spiegel, who serves as chairman of the newly-formed committee, said food law has become more prevalent in the past decade as the industry adapts to changes in the regulatory realm, as well as to advancements in the field like organic farming and genetically engineered food.
Spiegel said he and fellow attorney Gregory Berlowitz proposed the committee’s creation to the board of the CBA after the two men met through their children’s soccer league and discovered their shared interest in food law.
The committee held its first meeting last month and hosted its first seminar, “Navigating Illinois Food Law and Regulations” last week at the CBA headquarters in Chicago, where 30 attorneys attended in person and another 30 tuned in via webcast.
It hosted another seminar today that provided an overview of Chicago’s Urban Agriculture Ordinance and will present another on Nov. 18, when Berlowitz, who serves as vice-chairman of the committee, will discuss food cooperatives.
Berlowitz, who no longer actively practices law, last year founded Chicago Cooperative, a co-op that he said will begin selling shares sometime next year and eventually sell organic, locally-grown and sustainably-produced products.
Both Spiegel and Berlowitz said they were pleased with the turnout at the inaugural seminar and hope more attorneys will join the committee, which will review and comment on legislative, judicial and administrative proposals related to the growing, manufacturing, distribution and sale of food.
They also said they hope the committee will serve as a tool to help explain the ins-and-outs of the highly regulated industry while showing Chicago’s legal community all of the opportunities food law has to offer it.
“We want to give a voice to people and their concerns and create a forum to exchange ideas,” Spiegel said.
Food law, he said, is a growing area of the law and one that he said many attorneys are already involved in, but just may not know it.
Spiegel was introduced to food law through his representation of companies, many of which are in food industry, in tax and other matters. Berlowitz, on the other hand, became a lawyer because he wanted to practice food law, a desire that grew out of his interest in organic farming.
Spiegel said food law spans every stage of the food production chain from the farm to the consumer’s table and is something attorneys with clients in the industry, whether they growing, selling or cooking the food, need to stay on top of as it continues to evolve.
Given that the area touches on so many different topics, Spiegel and Berlowitz decided to provide attendants at the committee’s first seminar with an overview of what attorneys handling food law matters should know about.
Speakers at the Oct. 21 seminar included Raymond Watson, general counsel of the Illinois Department of Agriculture; Allan Abinoja, deputy general counsel and ethics officer for the Illinois Department of Public Health; attorney Megan Klein of Klein Law LLC in Chicago; and Laura Sova, senior policy advisor and division manager for the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Natural Resources.
Watson gave a run-down of what the Department of Agriculture does, work that ranges from inspecting thousands of licensed pet shops and shelters to registering expiration dates on all of the state’s egg sales, among numerous other tasks related to food regulation.
Like Watson, Abinoja gave an overview of the Department of Public Health’s work when it comes to the food industry. He said his department regulates food after it has been processed and handles a variety of issues that come along with food labeling and sanitation laws.
Klein focused her presentation at last week’s seminar on Senate Bill 1666, a measure pending in the Illinois General Assembly that would require genetically engineered foods to be labeled as such.
Klein, who also led today's seminar on the city's Urban Agriculture Ordinance, said bills addressing genetically engineered food labeling have been proposed in 18 other states this year.
Sova discussed several emerging food system trends, such as organic farming and anaerobic digesters, and the Department of Agriculture’s role in encouraging the production of organic and specialty crops.
She said the food industry is undergoing “a massive time of change” that is like “no other time in history,” something that has created a lot of new business for those in the industry, as well as the attorneys representing them, and a host of new problems to address.
The push for more organic food products, as well as efforts to better address food waste, have made now an “exciting and important time where technology and tradition are meeting,” Sova said, noting that while Illinois may behind other states, it is moving quickly to reemerge as a leader in agriculture.
For more information on the CBA’s Food Law Committee and its upcoming meetings and seminars, go to chicagobar.org.