From Farm to Fork to Landfill — Yale Law School Debuts Food Law and Policy Course

With a growing interest surrounding the laws and regulations that govern the foods and beverages we grow, raise, share, sell, cook, eat and drink, an entire new area of law continues to emerge and take hold in academia across the country. In response to this evolving subject matter, Yale Law School is rolling out its first-ever course on U.S. Food Law and Policy.

The idea for the course sparked when Jennifer McTiernan ’15, founder of the non-profit CitySeed, came to Yale Law School with a passion for food law and a desire to engage in a course on the topic. She had attended a conference at Yale Law School in 2010 titled Developing Food Policy, where Dean Robert Post ’77 addressed the audience and noted the critical importance of this area of law.

“For the movement, it was this huge moment to have the Dean of Yale Law School recognize that food law is a big issue,” recalled McTiernan, who initially met with Professor Amy Kapczynski ’03 to begin the framework for bringing a course like this to Yale.

Then last fall, McTiernan joined forces with Graham Downey ’16 and Lee Miller ’16, who bonded in their mutual interest and prior experience in food law and policy.

The three started a reading group on food law, sponsored by Professor Kapczynski, which generated substantial student interest with more than 40 students participating. 

At the same time, Downey and Miller, who were both involved with food law clinical work through the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy (YCELP), approached YCELP Associate Director Josh Galperin, asking him for ideas about how to get a course on these topics brought to YLS.

With faculty support from both the clinical and academic side, and armed with evidence about the importance and popularity of engaging students on the rapidly evolving topic of food law, the students met with Deputy Dean Al Klevorick, and less than one year later, the course launched this Spring semester.

“It was this beautiful moment where you had Yale Law professors acknowledging this emerging, exciting, important area of the law and seeking to create a class to meet student interest,” said McTiernan.

“We were able to show Dean Klevorick that food law is a real and important area of law and that YLS students wanted to have such an offering,” added Miller.

Taught by Visiting Lecturer in Law Emily Broad Leib, who directs Harvard University’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, the course will present an overview of topics in food law, including the environmental, health, and safety impacts of current methods of food production and distribution. The course will also address the lack of comprehensive U.S. food policy and the challenges posed by this fragmented regulatory framework. In addition, the course will address the ongoing debate between personal, corporate, and societal responsibility for diet-related disease and the ways in which this debate plays out in legislatures and courtrooms across the country.

“Food Law and Policy is a discipline that hasn’t been fully fleshed out yet,” said Galperin. “The idea of food and agriculture law policy as a holistic area of study — with the environmental, sustainability, cultural, and socioeconomic, and regulatory side of it — that is something that has really been emerging over the past decade.”

The U.S. Food Law and Policy course adds further depth to the array of environmental law offerings already in place at YLS thanks to a strong partnership with Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, a host of clinical and extracurricular opportunities available through the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy (YCELP), and a renowned environmental law faculty.

It is also part of a larger wave of interest and activity surrounding food law at the Law School, which includes clinical projects through the Environmental Protection Clinic and the Ludwig Center for Community & Economic Development Clinic at Yale Law School, and a recently launched student organization, the Yale Food Law Society (FoodSoc).

The Environmental Protection Clinic that Galperin co-teaches currently has six ongoing food law projects that include working with local and national NGOs on a number of initiatives, from developing a database of industrial agriculture facilities in the U.S. to authoring a book chapter surveying food and animal policy across the world.

“Josh has done a tremendous job bringing excellent food clients into the clinic, and I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue my passion at the intersection of food, agriculture, and the environment,” said Miller.

“By offering clinical opportunities and now the Food Law and Policy course, YLS has shown that it is willing to help students pursue their passions,” added Downey.

Downey and Miller launched FoodSoc this semester, a non-partisan community that promotes the study of and engagement with food and agriculture law and policy.

The Society advocates for an approach that is economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. The student group will bring together scholars, activists, policymakers, and professionals, and represent students directly interested in the food system as well as those interested in how food law touches and concerns their primary areas of interest in the law.

Downey and Miller will serve as co-presidents along with a 16-person student board. FoodSoc will also have a faculty advisory board, which will include Dean Post, Professor Kapczynski, Associate Professor David Singh Grewal ’02, and Galperin.

Watching the food law movement build and take shape is exciting, Galperin said, because young lawyers have the ability to really influence and mold the dialogue and debate.

“With more traditional environmental issues, we have well-developed statutes, case law, and common law,” explained Galperin. “However, we don’t have that yet for food law, so lawyers need to think about what they are advocating for at the legislative level and the kind of case law they are developing with an eye on how that is going to influence this body of law that is still really emerging.”