National Experts Collaborate to Examine Food, Law and COVID-19

Susan Schneider
Russell Cothren

Susan Schneider

While trapped at home by COVID-19, Susan Schneider (LL.M.'90), the William H. Enfield Professor of Law and director of the LL.M. Program in Agricultural and Food Law, began turning some questions over in her head: What is this worldwide pandemic teaching us about food law and policy, and how can lawyers help to address the issues being uncovered?

"In the first weeks, we were all glued to the news about COVID-19, and I was struck by how many food related issues kept coming up," Schneider said. "First there was food insecurity and essential workers in grocery stores, then workers in meat processing and food supply chain disruptions. We heard stories about how one group of people had no market for what they were producing while other people didn't have enough food."

The observations led her to design a course to examine issues around food, the law and COVID-19. As she outlined the curriculum, she kept thinking of the experts she knew who would be perfect to lead discussions on topics the class would explore.

"I started thinking about all the people I know through listservs or the Academy of Food Law and Policy and thought 'Why reinvent the wheel?' I knew people with expertise in all the areas I thought the class should cover, so I pitched them the idea of collaborating on a course, and everyone I talked to wanted to participate."

Schneider and nine of the other instructors were founding members of the Academy of Food Law and Policy. Other instructors are alumni of the LL.M. program and/or program faculty. The law school publishes the Journal of Food Law and Policy, the nation's first student-edited food policy journal and is home to the nationally acclaimed Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, an outreach effort that assists tribes across the country. The Food Recovery Project, food law and policy practicums, and externships provide additional connections to national and international experts.

"Many people — even those on our own campus — don't realize the university's history with agricultural and food law or just how ground-breaking we've been in this field. So many people who teach or produce agricultural and food law scholarship have been touched by this program in some way — they've learned here, taught here or been published here."

The significance of agriculture to Arkansas and the surrounding region inspired the University of Arkansas School of Law to found the LL.M. Program in Agricultural Law in 1980 as the first specialized degree program for attorneys interested in the study of agricultural law. In 2004, the program offered the first "food law and policy" course in the country, and in 2009, it became the LL.M. Program in Agricultural and Food Law, recognizing the importance of studying the food system from farm to plate. The program's history and Schneider's decades of research have made her one of the field's most recognized thought leaders.

The questions Schneider had been pondering since the early days of the pandemic became "Food, Law and COVID-19," a collaborative course engaging experts from around the country who share materials, hold weekly live online sessions and make recordings available to those unable to attend. Each week, students from all of the participating institutions consider a new topic from a different presenter.

"It was the perfect scenario. Students from across the country would have access to top scholars, each faculty member is responsible for teaching only one class and there is no travel involved. I don't think it's something we could have pulled off before the pandemic — at least not in the same way."

The curricular offerings vary from school to school, from a stand-alone special topics course to using the lectures as supplemental material for another class or as programming for local food law and policy student associations. Each instructor is responsible for their own presentation materials and assessment of learning outcomes.

"Everyone is assessing students a little differently. Some administer a test, some require a paper. Here, we're using blog posts. Our students are blogging about the course and their insights throughout the semester as they explore issues uncovered by COVID-19, including nutrition, health, food insecurity, safety, sustainability, meat production and international implications."

Nutrition, Health and Food Insecurity

Susan Schneider kicks off the class with "COVID-19 and Impacts on the Food System," a look into the questions raised and inequities uncovered by the pandemic. Her private practice and advocacy work in agricultural law include positions with firms in Arkansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and Washington, D.C. In her book "Food Farming and Sustainability: Readings in Agricultural Law," she provides a survey of agricultural law issues, bringing together traditional agricultural law topics and current issues of sustainability and food policy.

Margaret Sova McCabe, professor and dean of the University of Arkansas School of Law, explores "Nutrition, Health and COVID." She considers issues such the impact of science on health and nutrition policy and studies that illustrate how Americans who depend on food assistance tend to have poor diet. Her expertise in U.S. and international administrative process and regulatory systems, particularly those relating to food, environmental and public health, and agriculture have given her particular insight into how healthy eating patterns can change society over time.

Sheila Fleischhacker, adjunct professor at Georgetown Law, discusses "Federal Food and Nutrition Assistance." She teaches a first-of-its-kind nutrition law and policy course and co-teaches a unique course on the first 1,000 days of life. She co-chairs the HER NOPREN COVID-19 School Nutrition Implications Working Group - more than 500 researchers, advocacy representatives, practitioners and students exploring ways inform policy and practice and examine the impacts of federal, tribal, state and local decisions on food security and dietary intake as they relate to COVID-19.

Emily Broad Leib, clinical professor and director of the Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School, presents "Food Waste: Market and Logistics Failures; Legal impediments to Saving Food When Supply Collapses." She is recognized as a national leader in food law and policy due, in part to her scholarship, teaching and practice on finding solutions to some of today's biggest food law issues aiming to increase access to healthy foods, eliminate food waste and support sustainable food production and local and regional food systems.

Colby Duren, director of the University of Arkansas Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative and part-time LL.M. candidate, explores "COVID and Food Security in Indian Country." He has more than 11 years of experience in federal Indian law and policy, with a specific focus on food, agriculture, nutrition, natural resources and economic development. Prior to joining the initiative, he worked for non-governmental organizations and a law firm in Washington, D.C., where he advocated on behalf of Tribal Nations on land, natural resources and agriculture issues and helped represent Tribes on land reparation and agriculture issues.

Neil Hamilton, professor emeritus of law at Drake University Law School, analyzes "Local and Regional Food Systems: Building Sustainability and Resilience." He is widely recognized for his insight into the complex issues that challenge our food system and is noted for his ability to recognize challenges on the horizon. Under his leadership as the founding director, Drake's Agricultural Law Center established a national and international reputation for excellence in research, education and public extension on food policy, agricultural law and rural development.

Essential Workers and Farmworkers

Nicole Civita (LL.M.'13), lead and instructor for the specialization in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Colorado Boulder's Masters of the Environment graduate program, gives "An Introduction to 'Essential Workers.'" Her current scholarship and advocacy identify ethical values and explore dilemmas across the food chain, with particular attention to the well-being of workers and producers. Through this work, she aims to produce ethical guidance, actionable policy recommendations and transparency-enhancing tools that enable nourishing, informed and values-aligned choices about food.

Beth Lyon and Briana Beltran with Cornell Law School consider "A View from the Field: Farmworkers During the Pandemic."

Beltran, a lecturer in Cornell's Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic, teaches, studies and advocates for workers rights. She has supervised students representing farmworker clients on immigration and employment matters in upstate New York, throughout the U.S., and internationally, and she has co-taught a lawyering skills seminar to clinic students. Prior to joining Cornell, she represented migrant farmworkers in a six-state service area on a range of employment matters, including litigation in federal court and preparation of applications for immigration relief based on workplace abuses.

Lyon, clinical professor and founder of the Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic, is a national authority on the laws and policies affecting immigrant workers. She has written extensively on domestic and international immigrant and farmworker rights. Her publications are widely cited in academic and practitioner publications, and she has been quoted in various media outlets. She is a frequent speaker and panelist for academic and bar association conferences, addressing policy questions and practical issues of working through interpreters to address client needs and providing legal services to rural minorities.

Meat Production

Leah Douglas, associate editor and staff writer for the Food and Environmental Reporting Network, shares what she has learned while reporting on "COVID Outbreaks in Meat and Poultry Processing Plants." Her reporting on corporate power and big business in food and agriculture has been published in the Guardian, the Nation, the Washington Post, Mother Jones, NPR, Time and Fortune, and she has been interviewed for podcasts and national radio shows. Since April 2020, she has been a leading journalist covering the spread of COVID-19 at meatpacking plants, at food processing facilities and on farms.

Anthony Schutz, associate dean for faculty and professor at the University of Nebraska College of Law, explores "Farm to Slaughter: The Law and Policy of Meat Production in the U.S." The product of a farm family in Elwood, Nebraska, his research interests include of agricultural law, environmental and natural resources law, and state and local government, all of which have significant impacts on rural landscapes and populations. He has taught courses in agricultural law, environmental law, water law and land use regulation.

Jennifer Zwagerman (LL.M.'08), assistant professor and director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University Law School, presents "On the Farm: Livestock Producers Under Contract." The center is internationally recognized for the study of how the law shapes our food system and influences the ability of the agricultural sector to produce, market and use agricultural products. Before coming to Drake, she was an attorney in the general litigation group for a firm with a national practice in food and agricultural law.


Alexia Brunet Marks, associate professor at the University of Colorado Law School, examines "COVID Economic Disruption: The Global Supply Chain." Her research includes food systems law and international economic law with a transnational and multidisciplinary approach. She is currently exploring food system resiliency in an era of COVID and beyond. She serves on the Colorado Coronavirus Farm and Food Systems Task Force, working with a group of immigrants, farmers, scholars, activists, unions and workers across Colorado to identify, elevate and address the needs of the people who contribute their labor to all parts of the food system.

Uché Ewelukwa Ofodile, the E.J. Ball Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law, provides "International Perspectives: Food Security and COVID in Developing Nations." Her scholarship focuses particularly on international investment law and arbitration, business and human rights, China-Africa trade and investment relations, and the intersection of intellectual property law and human rights. She teaches Right to Food, Corporate Social Responsibility in the Agricultural and Food Sectors and Intellectual Property in the Agricultural and Food Sectors.

Michael Fakhri, special rapporteur on the right to food for the United Nations Civil Rights Council and associate professor at the University of Oregon School of Law, shares "Global Food Perspectives." He teaches courses on human rights, food law, development and commercial law, and he directs the Food Resiliency Project in the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center. He has delivered lectures on international human rights and development topics at universities across the U.S. and around the world and has led public discussions on human rights and development with peasant organizations, labor unions, human rights activists and international organizations.

Michael Roberts (LL.M.'01), professor from practice and executive director of the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy at the UCLA School of Law, teaches "Learning from the Past: Pandemics and Food Security in Historical Context." He is particularly interested in the global governance of food and recently led the Resnick Center into a partnership with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization on a series of research and advisory initiatives to confront global food security, nutrition, safety and quality.

Additional details on the course and instructors may be found on the Food, Law, and COVID-19 course pages.  


Darinda Sharp, director of communications
School of Law


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