Food for thought Adjunct professor shares his expertise on food laws

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Law students get a lot to digest in Neal Fortin’s classes.

Fortin, professor and director of the Institute for Food Laws & Regulations (IFLR) at the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, is an adjunct professor at his alma mater, MSU College of Law.

“Food law is older than the Old Testament and has been with us since the beginning of recorded history of trade – for example, we can find food law in the Code of Hammurabi,” he says. “The unfortunate truth is that food law has been and remains necessary to protect us from adulteration of food.

“Food law touches everyone’s lives every day.  Everyone eats, and food carries strong personal and cultural connections. I like this area of law because it involves the interplay of science and law.”

Fascinated by science from childhood, Fortin earned bachelor degrees in botany and human biology and envisioned a career as a scientist.

“I came into law via the back door as an official of a regulatory agency,” he says.  “I was called on to write law and give opinions on law, until at some point I decided I should go to law school.”

A principal of Fortin Law in Okemos, he has taught around the country and in Italy, China, and Spain as well as at MSU Law.

“I’ve been very lucky to fall into a position where I can engage with so many bright and energetic minds on a topic that I know and enjoy,” Fortin says. “In a world without money, I would still teach.”

While food law is increasing in popularity and more and more law schools are offering courses, it remains a niche practice area, he says.

“Most of my students will never have full time food law practices. Nonetheless, food law is great way to learn about administrative law, regulatory law, and interplay of science and the law, which will be part of the practice area of most attorneys.”

He is working with the MSU College of Law to create a new master’s program in Global Food Law. The first of its kind in the nation, the program will offer an LL.M. degree for students with a law degree; and an M.J. degree for students who do not have a law degree, such as doctoral students in other disciplines, policymakers, government officials, business executives, scientists, and other professionals. Available entirely through Internet distance education, the program is designed for professionals in the food and agriculture industries, law, government, and related areas who wish to enhance their working knowledge, and also for those seeking careers in the field of food law.

A member of the Food and Drug Law Institute, Institute of Food Technologists, and State Bar of Michigan, Fortin was the primary drafter of the Michigan Food Law of 2000; a member of the steering committee that created the Michigan Local Public Health Accreditation Program; chaired the Food Advisory Board, which advises the Michigan Department of Agriculture on retail food safety law and policy; and drafted laws, such as the revised Comminuted Meat Act, the Bottle Water Bill, and the Motor Fuels Quality Act.

He recently served on the Dietary Supplement Committee, Food and Drug Law Institute; on the Board of Directors, Food and Agriculture Protection Training Consortium; and was an adviser to the International Food Protection Training Institute.

He has authored numerous law and law-related articles and his 2009 book, “Food Regulation: Law, Science, Policy, and Practice” – with information on federal statutes, regulations, agencies, inspection and enforcement, international law, the Internet, and ethics – has been called “The most readable book ever written on food law.”

Reviews, comments and a free copy of Chapter One are available at www.FoodRegulation.us.

In his spare time, Fortin enjoys family life with his wife, daughter, two dogs and a cat, and his hobbies of reading, gardening, and cooking.

“Grocery shopping can be time consuming because there’s so much fascinating research material available,” he says. “When I go abroad, visits to food stores are among my favorite sightseeing activities.”

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