HLS 2359: Food Law and Policy


  • Professor: Emily Michele Broad Leib, Nicole Negowetti
  • Term: Spring, Fall
  • Days: W
  • Time: 1:00-3:00
  • School: Harvard Law School
  • Course ID: 213839

This seminar will present an overview of topics in food law and policy, and will examine how these laws shape what we eat. In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to a range of issues impacting the food system from farm to fork to landfill. In the past few years, major news stories have covered the federal farm bill, state GMO labeling laws, food safety outbreaks in China, and the misleading and unregulated terrain of expiration dates.

In order to better understand these issues and some of their root causes, we will examine food policy via the diverse lenses of farmers, consumers, and corporations, as well as using diverse disciplinary perspectives. We will concentrate on food law in the United States, but will also discuss the global food system, and will include comparative international perspectives in areas such as farming support, the right to food, and food system planning.

We begin the course by looking at federal agricultural policy and farm subsidies, and analyze the environmental, health, and safety implications of our agricultural system. We then discuss current debates regarding genetically modified foods and the legal issues surrounding various eco-labels such as organic, sustainable, local, and fair trade. The course also examines the role the government plays in determining what foods are consumed in the United States, through its Dietary Guidelines and food assistance programs. Finally, we will evaluate a range of existing and potential policy interventions at the federal, state, and local level.

The reading materials will be provided in a course reader and on the course website, and include various book chapters, cases, regulations, news reports, and scholarly articles that present diverse viewpoints on the topics presented. The seminar is intended to spark debate between different sides of these often controversial issues.

The seminar is open to any student interested in food and agricultural policy and its implications on health and the environment, and no background or prerequisites are required. Rather than an examination, students will be required to submit reading responses via the online course blog; prepare for and participate in in-class role play debates; and write one short policy brief. The policy brief will be geared to the appropriate government level and agency (state or federal government, depending on who controls the issue) and will explain a food-related problem and recommend a policy change intended to improve the health, nutrition, or environmental outcomes. Grades will be determined on the basis of these written submissions, in-class role plays, and class participation.

Notes: Some seats are reserved for students in the spring Food Law and Policy clinic. Students who enroll in the spring Food Law and Policy clinic will be enrolled in this course by the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs. If a student drops the spring Food Law and Policy clinic, they will also lose their reserved seat in this course. Please note that there is an early drop deadline of January 13, 2017 for students in this course enrolled in reserved clinical seats.