How Much Rain Has Fallen In Texas?

By Charles W. Stenholm

In the month of May, Texas received over 35 trillion gallons of rain.  See the graphic, below, to put that into perspective.

Many prayers were answered as we went from extreme drought to an overabundance of rainfall.  Truly a blessing!  It is much more difficult to do without water than deal with having too much.  Just wish the loss of life and property could be avoided.  We did, however, see many of the benefits of investing in flood control pay some dividends.

TX Rainfall

Click graphic to enlarge.

Phil Olsson and Rick Frank on 35 Years of Life at OFW

By Philip C. Olsson and Richard L. Frank

Phil: Rick, it’s hard to believe that 35 years have passed since we started this firm as a two-lawyer shop in 1979.

OFW Logo 35th AnniversaryRick: It sure is. I remember working with you at the law firm I joined fresh out of the University of Michigan Law School, and which you had joined several years earlier out of the USDA, where you had been Deputy Assistant Secretary for Marketing and Consumer Services.

In 1979, I was 28, with little experience. You were 40, and a well-known fixture in the agriculture and FDA bar. We decided to take a giant leap of faith and started Olsson and Frank. We persuaded Anita Harris to join us as our all-purpose support staff.

Phil: Our initial clients were food and agriculture companies and trade associations, including American Feed Manufacturers Association [now American Feed Industry Association], National Turkey Federation, Pacific Coast Meat Association [now North American Meat Association], The Quaker Oats Company, and Pueblo International.

Rick: Amazingly, many of those clients from 35 years ago are all still our clients today. We appreciate their loyalty and support over the years.

Phil: Today, food and agriculture are still a major part of our practice. But our practice has evolved and grown to include a wide range of industries regulated by USDA and FDA. We are still primarily a regulatory and counseling practice, with litigation capability.

Rick: We have had some notable successes from the outset.

Phil: Our first big challenge involved the National Turkey Federation, defending recently adopted USDA labeling regulations for “turkey ham,” which was allowed as a product name as long as it was qualified by the phrase “cured turkey thigh meat.” Two meat industry associations challenged that regulation. Before the District Court in Norfolk, we had a particularly unsympathetic judge, who began his opinion with an excerpt from Lewis Carroll about “when pigs have wings.” Fortunately for our client, the Fourth Circuit agreed with us and upheld USDA’s regulation. That win showed that our small firm was a feisty advocate. No one has ever doubted that Rick can be feisty, but that victory showed that our small firm had been inoculated with his feisty DNA.

Rick: The “turkey ham” case was important for the food industry, because it allowed product innovation to proceed without artificial constraints on product names. Along the same vein, for years we successfully fought off efforts by the dairy industry to demonize “imitation cheese” used as an ingredient in a wide variety of refrigerated and frozen meat-topped pizzas regulated by USDA.

Two other victories come to mind. We successfully got “Fresh Choice” orange juice and “Fresh Italian” pasta sauce off the market. Those products, which were made from previously processed, heat-treated concentrates, were anything but “fresh.” We also helped get approvals for lean, finely textured beef, a highly innovative, nutritious, and lower cost meat component widely used in ground beef and related products. (Note: Unfortunately, a disgruntled USDA employee, a “mommy blog,” and a national TV network disparaged this wholesome product as “pink slime” several years ago.)

Phil: One of my favorite clients was an egg distributor. On a trip with him to Cuba, we got to spend about five hours with just Fidel Castro, Castro’s trade director, and Castro’s interpreter. We heard Castro talk at length about improvements in Cuban literacy and life expectancy that had taken place since he took power in 1958. I have a treasured photo of me with El Presidente in my office.

Rick: It’s been a great 35 years, with lots of interesting matters. From the beginning, we always worked hard, tried to develop “creative solutions to difficult problems,” and fought to win our cases. We charged fairly for our services and worked in a very collegial environment. We still follow those guiding principles, which have served us well.

Phil: Indeed, those principles have worked well for us, as we have grown and prospered over the years.

Rick: In our early days, I was usually the youngest person in the room; Phil, you were the tallest. Today, I am often the oldest person in the room, but you are still the tallest. Some things change; some things don’t.

Thirty-five years have sped by. You, Anita, and I are all grandparents. The firm has grown, slowly but steadily, from two lawyers to almost 40 lawyers and Policy Advisors today.

Phil: In the beginning, you and I quickly realized we needed someone with more FDA expertise. In 1981, we were extremely fortunate to be joined by David Weeda, who had worked in FDA’s Office of Chief Counsel. David’s practice focused on drugs and biologics.

Next, Dennis Johnson joined us in 1982 after completing a Food and Drug Law Institute internship with FDA’s Office of Chief Counsel. He rapidly developed a practice representing packing and processing firms on their individual issues with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Despite government warnings on each cigarette package, DJ has never been able to give up his Lucky Strikes, and he developed close friendships with a number of FSIS decisionmakers while sharing their smoking breaks.

Rick: David was responsible for recruiting his former FDA Office of Chief Counsel colleagues, Arthur Tsien and Steve Terman, to join us. Both have fit in very nicely. Today, Arthur is the head of our drug practice and our animal food and animal drug practice, while Steve heads our medical device practice.

Phil: Marshall Matz and I have known each other since the days when he was counsel for Senate George McGovern’s Hunger Subcommittee and I was working on hunger issues for the Nixon Administration at USDA. Marshall joined us in 1992 and has built a world-class policy and lobbying practice.

Rick: Marshall’s practice fit in neatly with the non-lawyer Senior Policy Advisors that have joined us over the years. The first was John Block, President Reagan’s first Secretary of Agriculture and the youngest member of the Reagan Cabinet. Jack is to-this-day a corn and hog producer and before coming to Washington he had been the Illinois Secretary of Agriculture. We also have former Congressman Charles Stenholm. Charlie had been the leader of the Blue Dog Coalition in the House, a group of moderate Democrats who worked to build bipartisan consensus.

We are also pleased to have Dr. Barbara Masters, a veterinarian and a former (non‑smoking) Administrator of FSIS. Barb began working for USDA straight out of vet school and burst through several (age and gender) glass ceilings to become FSIS Administrator before she was 40.

Phil: And we’re privileged to have had many other talented individuals join us over the years.

Rick: Absolutely. We have the O’Flaherty Brothers from Chicago. Michael heads our food practice. Neil is a stalwart in our medical device practice. David Durkin and Tish Pahl are an important part of our drug practice. Brett Schwemer and Jolyda Swaim are part of our meat and poultry practice, while Evan Phelps works on medical device matters. Jon Weinrieb is our resident maven on medical privacy. We added Gary Baise and his team to work on agriculture-related litigation. Bob Hahn works on food matters. There are others, of course.

Phil: David Weeda is an “almost founder” of this firm. Unfortunately, David succumbed to lymphoma at an all-too-early age in 2001. We are now fortunate to have a next generation Weeda, David’s son Mason, as one of our up-and-coming associates.

Just as we were in the process of moving our offices to The Watergate in 2011, Marshall persuaded his old friend and mentor Senator McGovern to join us as a Senior Policy Advisor. Marshall liked to point out that we had brought Senator McGovern back to The Watergate. The Senator remained one of us until he passed away.

Rick: In 35 years, much has changed, but much remains the same. We are still a relatively small, quirky boutique, specializing in food, agriculture, drugs, devices, and related litigation.

Phil: Along the way, we’ve done many different kinds of things. Rick has been heavily involved in community activities as the founder of the Lawyers Have Heart 10K foot race and fundraiser, which has raised millions of dollars for the American Heart Association during the 25 years of its existence. He has also worked closely with a number of consumer organizations, building credibility to obtain consumer support for some of our client causes.

In the 35 years since 1979, our country has been led by six presidents. We have seen many of the national and international mega-law firms stumble and disappear. From the beginning, our firm has been fortunate to have had Rick’s prudent management skills, which I believe he absorbed while watching his parents and grandparents run a small family business. Thirty-five years at OFW has been a great ride with a great group of people, both those within the firm and those on the outside, the clients who have made it all possible.

Rick: It sure has been a great ride and it’s not over. We are in the process of grooming tomorrow’s leaders. I still love my view of the Potomac from my office in the Watergate Building – the planes and helicopters and boats coming and going. Our cases were and are challenging and interesting. Washington is a wonderful place to work and raise a family.

On to the future!

Food Security from the Tractor Seat

By Charles W. Stenholm

Last week’s headlines announced the arrival of higher food prices with more increases to come because of widespread drought in California and Texas.  Talk of climate change and its effect on food production in some circles has taken on a new sense of urgency.  But among all the handwringers, one common characteristic stands out.  They are all against technology.

But just as Malthus has been proven wrong time and time again because of technology and its applications by our farmers and ranchers, continued research and extension will meet the future needs of the world IF it is allowed to be developed and used.  Biotechnology and GMO’s have been, and will continue to be, vital to the world as it attempts to feed a growing population.

For example, a recent study of the poultry industry commissioned by the American Egg Board concluded that it took 32 percent less water to produce a dozen eggs today compared to 1960.  Using egg production technology of the 1960’s, it would require 78 million more hens, 1.3 million more acres of corn, and 1.8 million more acres of soybeans.  These and many other examples consistently show how technology helps conserve water, lower food costs, and improve the overall environment.

Now, I pose a simple question to those of us who are concerned about global food security: How is the world going to feed itself over the next 50 years on less land and with more expensive water?  That in and of itself poses a significant obstacle, but without continuing to challenge our best and brightest minds and allowing them to find and develop the technological solutions, I submit it will be impossible.

For all of the controversy over the nutrition title of the Farm Bill regarding spending, did any side ever stop to consider that the higher cost of food will most assuredly have a very adverse effect on those of us least able to afford what we are eating today, and that SNAP and school lunch dollars will not go as far in the future as a result?

If we deny the rest of the world the use of current and future biotechnology, they will not be able to feed themselves.   I hope we can provoke a discussion between the hunger community and the environmental community that is so opposed to GMO’s to answer a simple question:  If not with technology, how will the world feed itself?  The answer cannot be organic, albeit completely acknowledging that it is a growing and profitable market that might eventually provide for 10 percent of the world food needs of those who prefer and can afford the higher prices!

The hunger community must begin to give more sincere attention to how the world can feed itself now and in the future; step one is embracing sound science and biotechnology.

Former Congressman Charlie Stenholm represented the 17th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives for 26 years. He was a member of the House Agriculture Committee throughout his career, serving as the Committee’s ranking Democrat for his last eight years in office.

OFW Law Celebrates National FFA Week

By John G. Dillard

OFW Law is proud to represent and advise clients that are on the cutting edge of the food and agricultural industry. Our clients include the input suppliers, farmers and ranchers, food and meat processors, support services, and trade associations that strive to meet our world’s growing nutritional demands. We recognize that agricultural education and participation in the National Future Farmers of America Organization (FFA) played a critical role in the development of many of our clients and their employees. OFW Law also recognizes the critical role that agricultural education plays in developing the future leaders of the food and agricultural industry. Therefore, OFW Law joins the chorus of praises for FFA members and advisors during this year’s National FFA Week.

FFA is the primary driving force behind the vitality of agricultural education at the middle school and high school level in the United States. Today’s FFA advisors and agriculture teachers provide an integrated curriculum that teaches students practical skills in applied biology and chemistry, mechanics, and leadership. FFA’s activities and career development events expose students to a variety of occupational skills related to production agriculture, environmental and natural resources conservation, agribusiness, policy and communications. With nearly 580,000 FFA members spread across the 50 states and U.S. territories, the future for American agriculture looks bright.

FFA is also personal to the several OFW Law staff that are alums of the organization. For instance, prior to embarking on his long political career, Senior Policy Advisor and former U.S. Congressman Charlie Stenholm was an FFA member and then an agricultural education teacher in Texas. John Block, Senior Policy Advisor and former USDA Secretary served as an Illinois State FFA officer and once proudly addressed the attendees of the National FFA Convention in the same blue corduroy FFA jacket that he wore in his high school days.

I was lucky enough to be a part of this great organization. I served as president of the Amelia County High School (VA) chapter and participated in several of the exciting competitions and projects that FFA offers.

I was also proud to join my home chapter on Monday to kick off their FFA week as a guest speaker for the wide variety of agriculture-related classes offered at the school. I spoke about the challenges facing agriculture, the work that OFW Law does in the food and agriculture industry, and the opportunities available for young people interested in this field. I had a chance to meet and interact with several of the students as well as the chapter’s leaders, and learn about their future plans in the agricultural field.

OFW Law attorney John Dillard with his former FFA Advisors, Margaret Jones and Benjy Morris.

OFW Law attorney John Dillard with his former FFA Advisors, Margaret Jones and Benjy Morris.

While we face many challenges in meeting our planet’s future nutritional needs, we take comfort in knowing that the National FFA Organization is educating and energizing our nation’s future leaders in food and fiber production. Accordingly, OFW Law salutes FFA members and their dedicated advisors during National FFA Week!

Hot Dogs on the Hill

Charlie and Jim SundbergFormer Congressman and OFW Law Senior Policy Advisor Charlie Stenholm (D-TX) greets six-time Major League Baseball Gold Glove Award winning catcher Jim Sundberg, who spent 12 years with the Texas Rangers, at the American Meat Institute’s (AMI) Annual Hot Dog Lunch on Capitol Hill.  The 2013 Hot Dog Lunch was co-hosted by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN).  See the AMI press release here.

A Farm Bill by the Boot Straps

By Charles W. Stenholm

After two years of not passing a Farm Bill out of the House, it should be obvious to everyone that Farm Bills, as we have known and passed them, are over.  This time around, a majority wanted to end direct payments; the Farm Bill did that.  Most Members wanted to make producers more dependent on crop insurance as a risk management program; the Farm Bill did that. Some wanted reform in the food stamp program; the Committee bill did that.  Some, but not all, of the other desired changes were included in the bill presented for final vote on the House floor.  Yet, instead of accepting victory and moving the bill to conference to actually enact these achievements, too many Members who supported these changes voted against final passage.  So, instead of reform, we are looking at continuing the policies of the past for perhaps another year.  How could this have happened?

We can and must reduce spending responsibly.  In fact, I do believe we can reduce spending beyond the levels recommended by the House Agriculture Committee.

If anything is clear, it’s that Congress needs to improve its work ethic (instead of going home for multiple recesses as it has just done, again!).  The House worked its will on dairy, but not on sugar – why?  All subsidies must be looked at with the same intensity. Congress had plenty of time, if they took it and used it wisely. Given the House Ag Committee held no hearings on farm or nutrition policy in the first six months of this year, it should come as no surprise why Committee leaders were unable to refer to expert testimony and the reasonable exchange of ideas to defend the Farm Bill proposals they were advancing.  Regarding the controversial Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in particular, I would recommend that the Committee hold in-depth hearings in July, September, October – until a consensus can be reached on how to reduce costs without taking food from children, old folks, and those who can’t help themselves.  More spending cannot, and must not, be the answer.

Now, there were some in Committee and on the House floor who argued that farm and food policy are not sufficiently linked, and should be divided and argued as two separate bills.  I would argue this approach to be unwise, even if it were plausible, which I don’t think it is.  The American farmer produces more food than any other producer in the world at the lowest price. Therefore, it makes sense for the policy that produces the most plentiful food supply at a price most people can afford to be the jump off point for linking farms with nutrition policy.

Farmers have had the benefit of research and sound science, and have used this consistent knowledge base for years, to produce in abundance to the benefit of the consumer. Some now argue that we should make some foods more expensive to discourage the consumption of those items they believe to be of limited nutritional value.  Most often, that argument comes from those who can afford to pay more for food. If someone on a low income budget is buying the food items that are affordable on their income, or affordable with SNAP benefits, what will happen to them if food prices increase?  The ongoing debate between the House, the Senate and the advocacy groups regarding the proper budget number for SNAP poses a significant question: Does anyone really believe the budget dollars and votes are there to pay for higher food prices? Furthermore, should they be there?

So, how do you make food cheaper? Food safety, labeling, and environmental requirements all cost money, as do wages and health benefits for workers in the food industry.  The food industry is not a non-profit, and if you try to make it one, then you push out the incentive for innovation.  Should those who are eligible for SNAP be restricted as to what they can buy?  Some say absolutely; others say such requirements would only make it more difficult and expensive to administer the program.

Perhaps a better question to ask is, who has done an evaluation of the nutrition education programs offered by SNAP, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), school meals, etc?  Millions of dollars are spent each year on these programs.  If people aren’t making informed choices, then it is reasonable to question the effectiveness of these programs.

Research, technology and scientific discovery continue to enhance food safety and availability. But our agricultural research funding has been flat-lined while other countries increase theirs and pursue the markets we like to call “ours.”  This is of the upmost importance given our farmers and ranchers will need to produce more food in the next 50 years than was produced in the last 10,000 years combined to keep up with the growth in human population.  Biotechnology in the 21st Century could well be as important as pasteurization was in the 19th Century.  Why is it that those who oppose biotechnology are never questioned as to how the hungry people of the world are going to be fed?

We do have a moral obligation to help our neighbors.  But if it is true that we now have 79 federal, means-tested programs that offer cash, food, housing, healthcare, or social services to the poor, would it not make some sense to look into who is getting what and how much? It should not be considered mean-spirited to suggest that only those who qualify should receive benefits. At a time when have fewer dollars to spend, don’t we have an obligation to be sure that each dollar is well spent?

To those who ignore our $600 billion deficits, our $17 trillion debt and $73 trillion long-term promises that cannot be kept: Why do you only worry about today and the next election?  And let us not forget; it took the Senate over 1,460 days to pass a budget.  It has now been over 100 days with no conference on the budget!  How many more days is it going to take?  A budget is a must in order to reach the compromises necessary to govern!

Boysie E. Day, former Professor of Plant Physiology at University of California–Riverside and pioneer in the science of weed control, once said, “Agriculture is not just the most essential industry; it is the only essential industry.”  Congress has an obligation to act responsibly, especially when dealing with the essential industry.

It’s time to pull on the boot straps, and find a way to get the Farm Bill done.

Former Congressman Charlie Stenholm represented the 17th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives for 26 years. He was a member of the House Agriculture Committee throughout his career, serving as the Committee’s ranking Democrat for his last eight years in office.