Mr. Uram represents organic food distribution and production companies and 501(c)(3) organizations that support research to improve organic farming and that support the growth of organic production. With the assistance of his partners, he represents these organizations on a broad range of issues, including organic compliance, corporate, contract, labor, and intellectual property issues.
The views expressed by Mr. Uram are solely his own and do not express the views of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP.
How did you first get involved with the organic food industry?
I enjoyed eating organic foods and organic gardening for many years before I did any work for the organic industry. In 1997, one of my partners had an organic cotton grower as a client. I thought that I might be able to combine my interest in organic foods with my experience in administrative law and natural resources law. I began attending meetings of the Organic Trade Association ("OTA") and other groups and learning about the industry. This was when the Department of Agriculture was considering adopting regulations under the Organic Foods Production Act. The rules USDA proposed were not consistent with the vision of organic community and allowed use of sewage sludge, irradiated foods and genetically modified organisms ("GMO's") as part of organic. OTA asked me to represent it in the rulemaking. OTA and others, including hundreds of thousands of individuals and grassroots organizations, filed comments that asked the USDA to remove these as allowable practices and to make other changes needed to be consistent with industry standards.. The regulations which USDA adopted in 2002 did not contain these objectionable practices in the definition of "organic". These rules are known as the National Organic Program or NOP.
The market for organic food has grown exponentially in the last twenty years. Has this posed any particular legal challenges for the industry?
While growth always raises questions about quality control, the industry leaders showed a great deal of foresight in anticipating the potential for growth by seeking federal regulation to establish an enforceable standard for organic. Before USDA adopted the NOP, anyone could claim that their product was organic. All companies that now seek to join the organic community know what they need to do to comply. The greatest challenge is to ensure that the standards are being followed and that effective correction is taken. The accredited organic certifiers play a key role in that process.
Which areas of organic food law and regulation are most commonly contested?
Most of the activity before the National Organic Standards Board concerns what practices and inputs are acceptable. For example, are certain fertilizer products synthetic? USDA is considering a number of rulemaking actions including those that will address pesticide residue testing, origin of livestock (what animals can be brought into organic management), streamlining appeals process, apiculture (related to the production of honey), mushrooms, pet food, aquaculture and use of greenhouses.
What kind of work are you currently doing?
I have been working with an accredited certifier on reviewing its handbook and forms that specify obligations of growers, producers and handlers, developing approaches to address the adverse effects of GMO's on organic producers and advising the Organic Farming Research Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) devoted to fostering the improvement and wide spread adoption of organic farming .
Which legal issues do you think will be important for the organic food industry over the next decade?
The continued assurance of the integrity of the certification process, the GMO issues and food safety will certainly be important.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with law students interested in food law?
The food and beverage industry has legal issues that go beyond the regulatory issues--corporate, labor, trade and real estate to name a few. There should be interesting opportunities in this area in the future in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.
Is there anything you avoid eating out of principle?
I avoid foods produced with GMO's or dairy products with bovine growth hormone.
What did you eat for dinner last night?
Roasted tomato soup with saffron quinoa and an arugula salad with persimmons, toasted pecans and feta cheese.