Food and the Law

As a law librarian who also really, really likes to cook, I am always interested when issues regarding food and the law crop up. There has obviously been a surge of awareness, advocacy, and engagement with these issues over the past decade or so, with a host of media attention lavished upon previously unheralded issues such as sustainability, GMOs, 100-mile diets – to name but a few.

The law has clearly played a huge part in regulating these issues (although in most cases, not nearly enough in my opinion) at all levels of government. It says something when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s war on trans fats and soft drinks is international news. Yet despite this, there is a relative dearth of resources that are dedicated to the explicit connection of food to law (particularly in Canada) and, while there is a lawyer in Toronto whose practice is devoted to food law, it is still sufficiently niche to merit an article about how niche it really is.

Nevertheless, there are a number of places where it is possible to find information on the intersection of food and the law in Canada, the United States, and beyond. One of the most basic resources is Health Canada’s page about acts and regulations that are pertain to food and nutrition, as well as the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency’s.

Osgoode also contains a wealth of resources on food law, some of which I will list below (but do keep in mind that this is far from exhaustive – for a longer list, take a look at the books available under the Food Law and Legislation subject heading):

Canadian Food and Drug Legislation and Commentary

Food Law (British)

Eco Crime and Genetically Modified Food (British)

Food Regulation: Law, Science, Policy, and Practice (American)

Governing Risk in GM Agriculture (American)

We also have a charming new acquisition entitled The Little Book of Foodie Law that, it must be said, I had not seen until researching this post. As its name suggests, it is brief at 132 pages, but it is also a fun read. Comprised of eighteen chapters, each dedicated to a particular case highlighting a particular issue (bad restaurant reviews, liability of book publishers due to eating a poisonous mushroom, foie gras bans, and so on), along with a recipe in each chapter, it is both illuminating and enjoyable. For those who like a bit of history with their food law, we also have Cheated, Not Poisoned?: Food Regulation in the United Kingdom 1875-1938 which, of course, deals with an era where some cocaine in your Coca-Cola seemed like a good idea and mass production of food began to become the norm.

In addition to some of the books we have, there are also a journal dedicated (at least in part) to food – the Food and Drug Law Journal (formerly the Food Drug Cosmetic Law Quarterly), which is available on HeinOnline.

As a final note, I want to mention an interesting article that I recently read that represents the intersection of two particularly hot issues at the moment – food and intellectual property. In the somewhat unlikely forum of the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law, J. Austin Broussard’s “Intellectual Property Food Fight: Why Copyright Law Should Embrace Culinary Innovation” highlights the relatively recent concept of “signature” dishes and the desire of chefs to claim them as their intellectual property. Indeed, in the recent Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, their signature dish, the Crack Pie, is offputtingly rendered in the text as Crack Pie™ (although it must be said that the pie is pretty amazing – here’s the recipe).

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