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Friday, June 24, 2011

The Pigford Cases: USDA Settlement of Discrimination Suits by Black Farmers

Tadlock Cowan
Analyst in Natural Resources and Rural Development

Jody Feder
Legislative Attorney

On April 14, 1999, Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia approved a settlement agreement and consent decree in Pigford v. Glickman, a class action discrimination suit between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and black farmers. The suit claimed that the agency had discriminated against black farmers on the basis of race and failed to investigate or properly respond to complaints from 1983 to 1997. The deadline for submitting a claim as a class member was September 12, 2000. As of November 2010, 15,642 (69%) of the 22,721 eligible class members had final adjudications approved.

Many voiced concern over the structure of the settlement agreement, the large number of applicants who filed late, and reported deficiencies in representation by class counsel. A provision in the 2008 farm bill (P.L. 110-246) permitted any claimant who had submitted a late-filing request under Pigford and who had not previously obtained a determination on the merits of his or her claim to petition in federal court to obtain such a determination. A maximum of $100 million in mandatory spending was made available for payment of these claims, and the multiple claims that were subsequently filed were consolidated into a single case, In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation (commonly referred to as Pigford II).

On February 18, 2010, Attorney General Holder and Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack announced a $1.25 billion settlement of these Pigford II claims. However, because only $100 million was made available in the 2008 farm bill, the Pigford II settlement was contingent upon congressional approval of an additional $1.15 billion in funding. After a series of failed attempts to appropriate funds for the settlement agreement, the Senate passed the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 (H.R. 4783) to provide the $1.15 billion appropriation by unanimous consent on November 19, 2010. The Senate bill was then passed by the House on November 30 and signed by the President on December 8 (P.L. 111-291).

Like the original Pigford case, the Pigford II settlement provides both a fast-track settlement process and higher payments to potential claimants who go through a more rigorous review and documentation process. A moratorium on foreclosures of most claimants’ farms will remain in place until after claimants have gone through the claims process. On May 13, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a preliminary approval of the settlement agreement. The actual process for adjudicating the individual claims has not been finalized, and it is unclear when payments to successful claimants will be made. No payments will be made until all the merits of all claims have been heard.

This report highlights some of the events that led up to the original Pigford class action suit and the subsequent Pigford II settlement. The report also outlines the structure of both the original consent decree in Pigford and the settlement agreement in Pigford II. In addition, the report discusses the number of claims reviewed, denied, and awarded under Pigford, as well as some of the issues raised by various parties under both lawsuits.

Date of Report: June 14, 2011
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RS20430
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Japan’s 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami: Food and Agriculture Implications

Renée Johnson
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused widespread devastation that affected many of the country’s agricultural and fishery areas. The nuclear crisis that followed at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, and the subsequent detection of radioactive contamination of food produced near the disabled facility, further raised fears about the safety of Japan’s food production systems and its future food exports. Most reports acknowledge that Japan’s current production and supply shortages, along with rising food safety concerns and possible longer-term radiation threats to its food production, could limit Japan’s food exports while possibly increasing its need for food imports in the future. It is still not clear what effect, if any, Japan’s current food supply and demand situation will have on world farm commodity markets and food prices.

Following initial reports about possible radioactive contamination of foods, many countries increased their surveillance of food imports from Japan. In addition to the United States, others imposing heightened surveillance measures include the European Union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and most Asian nations, such as China and Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, and Thailand, among others. Import restrictions vary by country but broadly cover milk and milk products, vegetables and fruit, and seafood and meat from those prefectures with a perceived risk of contamination, specifically Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, and Gunma. Several international organizations, including the various organizations of the United Nations, are closely monitoring global concerns about the safety of foods produced in Japan.

The Japanese government has taken steps to monitor and restrict, if necessary, the distribution of contaminated foods. Testing has been conducted nearly daily to detect possible radioactive contaminants on a wide range of plant and animal products, including fish, and also tap water in some of the coastal prefectures as well as in southern prefectures near the disabled Fukushima facility. In March 2011, Japan’s government made a series of announcements restricting the distribution and consumption of certain vegetables harvested in Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, and Gunma prefectures, and fresh raw milk produced in Fukushima prefecture. In April 2011, there were additional announcements regarding possible contaminated fish products, and also an announcement restricting spinach and leafy greens from Chiba prefecture.

In the United States, the two principal agencies that regulate U.S. food imports—the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—have taken steps to address these concerns. Following Japan’s announcement that some foods had been contaminated by radiation, FDA issued “Import Alert 99-33” for milk, vegetables, and certain fish species (sand lance) produced or manufactured in selected Japanese prefectures. Both FDA and USDA have announced that they are taking extra steps to better track U.S. food imports from Japan, working in conjunction with existing border inspectors at the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Other U.S. agencies are also addressing concerns about whether radiation from Japan might affect food production in the United States or in U.S. territories in the Pacific. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is continuously monitoring the nation’s air and is regularly monitoring drinking water, milk, and precipitation for environmental radiation. To date, the results of EPA’s sampling and monitoring have shown detected radiation below levels that are a public-health concern.

Date of Report: May 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R41766
Price: $29.95

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Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
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