There is a newly prominent practice area in the field of law and it is beginning to receive a lot of attention -- food law and policy.
George Mason University Law Professor, Baylen Linnekin, and the Director of Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic, Emily Broad Lieb, recently published a ten-year retrospective on food law and policy in the Wisconsin Law Review. In their paper, Linnekin and Lieb contextualize the development of food law as separate from the traditional areas of agricultural law or pharmaceutical regulatory law, the areas most often associated with food law. They describe food law as having a major policy component unique unto itself that requires a contemplation of the impact that laws and regulations have on the "food and beverages we grow, raise, produce, transport, buy, sell, distribute, share, cook, eat, and drink."
Though both increasingly relevant and rapidly growing, the practice of food law has its challenges. Mary Beth Albright, a food lawyer in Washington, D.C., recently wrote for National Geographic's The Plate about the versatility that is required of a food lawyer as opposed to lawyers who inhabit more traditional areas of practice. She describes the practice as requiring a lawyer to be comfortable in a multifaceted role: "Being a food lawyer not only allows, but requires, interdisciplinary thinking and using the existing system in inventive ways." Maintaining a current and deep base of knowledge to approach the variety of problems that come across a food lawyer's desk is tough work and, until recently, a food lawyer didn't have many places to turn for support.
Over the past several years, many academic institutions in the United States have begun to create law school courses that engage food law concepts with LL.M. and certificate-based food law programs at UCLA, Harvard, Arkansas, and Michigan State. Conferences are bringing attention to this emerging area of practice as well as bringing practitioners together to create food law specific content. As a practicing food lawyer, I have been watching these developments intently while working with federal, provincial and municipal laws and regulations that seek to implement various Canadian food policies. But in Canada, when compared to America and Europe, the legal profession has been relatively slow to engage food law.
Until 2014, that is. This year law students have created a Food Law Society at the University of Toronto Law School, which has been modelled on the groundbreaking Harvard Food Law Society. For lawyers, the national professional organization Food Lawyers of Canada has been created to help further the practice area and develop professional knowledge. Such initiatives are working to encourage law students and lawyers in Canada to think about how to better engage our food systems and incorporate aspects of food into their practices.
The development of food law in Canada is having an impact beyond the legal community and is an exciting development for anyone who engages with the food system, whether they be food entrepreneurs, scientists, regulators, or the everyday consumer. Because food lawyers represent clients from every part of Canadian food systems, they are able to approach problems with a multi-stakeholder perspective and a versatile set of skills. Food lawyers' interests are in better laws -- laws that benefit the system as a whole and enable a more fair, balanced, and effective legal and regulatory regime for the production, processing, and sale of food in Canada. Accordingly, a food lawyer can be an effective person to develop policy, advocate for a client, or navigate complex regulatory bodies.
Canadians are spending more time thinking about their food: where it comes from, how it is sourced, treated and graded. Having lawyers who are conversant in Canadian and global food systems should result in better food laws, better advice for food enterprises, a multi-stakeholder approach to regulatory reform, and a group of passionate professionals keen to improve upon our food systems.
For lawyers, the excitement is even greater. When at law school, most students are presented with a fairly traditional canon of practice areas to choose from in order to prepare for traditional careers both within and outside of the legal world -- to become criminal, family, corporate, or in-house lawyers. But, as Mary Beth Albright rightly points out, if you're keen on using the creative skills that enabled you to get in and through law school, food law and policy brings a fresh dimension to a legal career that addresses issues that are rapidly becoming increasingly important from government to business to your plate.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
This one, as you are probably aware, is already out the door. Target announced on Jan. 15 it is leaving the Canadian market, having lost some $2.1 billion on its whirlwind foray north of the border.
A few months ago it looked like Jacob was already gone, with the Quebec-based fashion boutique filing for bankruptcy and announcing plans to close all 92 stores. But a Quebec court has given the retailer until later this month to come up with a plan to save some of its stores.
The Canadian division of Sears has been bleeding money and has tried to stanch it by selling off leases to some of its highest-profile locations, not to mention layoffs by the thousands. But those moves didn’t stop the retailer from doubling its losses in the most recent quarter. The chain’s Chicago-based parent company is mulling selling the Canadian division. But in this era of big box department stores struggling against online retailers, it’s hard to see who would buy Sears Canada.
Montreal-based Reitmans said a few years back it wasn’t worried about Target’s arrival in Canada -- it had survived Walmart and The Gap, after all. Two years later, the retailer that owns numerous fashion chains, including Smart Set, Addition Elle, RW & Co. and Penningtons, is shrinking. The company last year opened 25 new stores, but closed 58. that still leaves it with 878 stores. Profits for the 2013 fiscal year shrank by nearly 60 per cent.
If you've stepped into an Indigo recently, you can be forgiven for wondering whether the retailer still sells books. With e-books and online book retailers putting big-box bookstores under pressure, Indigo is busily diversifying its product offerings to include "lifestyle items" such as candles and gifts, but will it work? Indigo is growing its online sales by the double digits, but they still only account for some 10 per cent of total sales. The U.S. big box bookstore Borders closed a few years back. The idea that Canada's last remaining big box book chain could follow seems less unthinkable with every passing day.
Aeropostale was a growing brand in Canada until about 2012, opening an average of nine new stores per year. But last year it began shrinking, and now has 51 stores in Canada, down from 58. The chain appears to be suffering from a potentially fatal problem: Teens don't think it's cool anymore.
Layoffs at Best Buy Canada and its sister chain Future Shop have numbered in the thousands over the past few years. The CEO of the Minnesota-based company described Canada this spring as a "very, very soft" market for electronics. Best Buy doesn't break out numbers for Canada, but its international division (Canada, Mexico, China) saw sales plunge 10.5 per cent in the first quarter, with same-store sales down 5.8 per cent. The chain is one of the most prominent victims of "showrooming" -- customers coming in to check out products, then buying them at lower prices from an online competitor.
Le Chateau is shrinking. The chain opened one store last year, and closed seven. It now has 228 retail locations, down from 243 in 2011. The company's shares were trading at $15 as recently as 2010; they are now hovering around $1.50.
Follow Glenford Jameson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gsjameson