Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Trailering Your Horse Out-of-State? USDA Announces New Rules

On January 9, 2013, the USDA published the new Final Rules in the Federal Register regarding Traceability for Livestock Moving Interstate.  The new rule applies to horses moving interstate as well as to and from Indian reservations.  The new system requires that horses be individually identified and accompanied by an Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (ICVI).

The American Horse Council published an article summarizing the new rules, which can be viewed here.  The Final Rule published in the Federal Register can be viewed here.

The USDA has published Fact Sheets and other materials about the new rules, among them:

A Guide for Identifying Horses and Other Equines

Animal Disease Traceability Q&A

Minnesota passes language requirement for liability waivers, effective August 1, 2013

As the dust settled from the Minnesota State Legislature's spring session, a new statute passed affecting language in liability waivers caused some ripples through the equine insurance industry but didn't attract headline news.

Most equine businesses offering riding instruction, carriage rides, or other services are familiar with liability waivers.  These are the agreements between service providers and customers in which a customer agrees to assume the risk of accidents or injuries, and agrees not to sue the service provider for accidents.  But some agreements downloaded from the internet or written by people unfamiliar with Minnesota's particular legal requirements for those agreements may be unenforceable.

Minnesota courts have historically construed such agreements narrowly.  In Minnesota, a waiver and release is enforceable so long as it is unambiguous, there is no disparity of bargaining power between the parties, and it does not purport to release a party from liability for intentional, willful, or wanton acts.  Beehner v. Cragun Corp., 636 N.W.2d 821 (Minn. Ct. App. 2001).  A new statutory requirement now codifies that last case-law principle.  Under Minn. Stat. § 604.055 (effective August 1, 2013), an agreement must not purport or intend to waive liability for damage, injuries, or death resulting from conduct that constitutes greater than ordinary negligence.
To be clear in your future use of liability waivers, consider adding a phrase that references the new statute, such as, "Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 604.055, effective August 1, 2013, nothing in this agreement purports or intends to waive liability for damage, injuries, or death resulting from conduct that constitutes greater than ordinary negligence."

If you've been using appropriate liability waivers to date, you probably already have covered that requirement, but it doesn't hurt to say it again and reference the new statute. 

As always, call me for a free consultation if you have any questions about your use of liability waivers or other agreements.  An ounce of prevention.... 

Equine Law webcast on November 6, 2013

I will be presenting several sections of the National Business Institute's Equine Law webcast seminar on November 6, 2013.  CLE credit is available for attorneys, and the information will be useful for equine business owners, too.  For more information, visit NBI.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pollinator habitat program proposed for State lands

Companion bills introduced in the State House and Senate would establish a program to enhance habitat for honeybees and other pollinators on State lands.  The program also would allow pollinator-enhancement on certain lands subject to conservation easements.  The House bill is H.F. 595; the Senate bill is S.F. 1371.

Interest in pollinator habitat has increased across all sectors of agricultural interests, from urban growers and suburban hobby farmers to large commercial farmers.  For more information about the importance of pollinators and how to foster healthy pollinator habitat on your own property, visit the University of Minnesota Extension program.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

New horse slaughter bill aimed at preventing human consumption of drug-tainted horsemeat

A bill introduced on March 11, 2013, in the United States House of Representatives would ban the transportation of horses or horse parts in interstate commerce by anyone who knows or should know the horse or parts are intended for human consumption.  The full text of H.R. 1094 can be viewed here.

Previously an effective ban on transporting horses intended for slaughter was accomplished by Congressional refusal to fund USDA inspections of slaughtering facilities that processed horses.  In 2011, Congress lifted the restriction, enabling the processing of horses in the United States.  But the recent scandal in the United Kingdom surrounding undisclosed tainting of beef products with horse meat brought attention to another problem:  in the United States, horses routinely are treated with drugs such as phenylbutazone (commonly called bute for short), which is toxic to humans in even small amounts.  A recent exposé in Newsweek cites a study in Food and Chemical Toxicology that found:

[B]ute causes bone-marrow depression like aplastic anemia, agranulocytosis, thrombocytopenia, leucopenia, pancytopenia, and hemolytic anemia, which are fatal in the vast majority of cases. The elderly are more susceptible than younger adults. The risks for developing bone-marrow depression and other serious effects are heightened because humans metabolize bute into oxyphenbutazone, which also causes bone-marrow depression.
The study also demonstrates that children are at increased risk of developing aplastic anemia from minute levels of bute and oxyphenbutazone in horse meat, presumably because their bones are still growing. But even very low levels of bute can result in a hypersensitivity reaction in susceptible adults that’s mostly fatal. All of these effects are considered to be idiosyncratic, meaning it is unknown who will be afflicted.

The bottom line:  horse meat is not regulated for human consumption in the United States, and American horses probably aren't safe for people to eat.

The new law banning transportation of horses for slaughter would only apply to horses intended for human consumption, so horses still could be shipped for slaughter if they are intended for animal consumption.  A primary market for horse meat in the United States is zoos, to feed horse meat to carnivores.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Taxes on services scrapped

Confronted with strong resistance from business leaders as well as many within his own party, Governor Dayton has backed away from his proposal to impose new taxes on services.  His new plan would raise income taxes on the wealthy.  The House and Senate now will consider their own proposals.  Stay tuned to see how agricultural policy may be affected and impact your farm or ranch business.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Would agricultural services be exempt?

Here is Governor Dayton's proposed language in HF677 exempting agricultural services from the broadened tax on services in the omnibus tax bill:

This bill is scheduled for hearing tonight; we'll see about clarification of this and other provisions, as well as a proposal to exempt "agricultural education services" - including horse training and riding instruction and day camps for children to teach them about farming and animal husbandry - under this subdivision.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sales tax proposed on some veterinary services; horse boarding still exempt

On February 18, Governor Dayton's omnibus tax bill was introduced in the Minnesota Legislature.  It would eliminate many exemptions from sales tax - including some veterinary services - and impose sales tax on almost all services.  This is part of a broad tax reform plan. Among other things, it would reduce the sales tax rate and provide a property tax rebate while extending sales tax applicability to many previously exempted goods and services.  Here is a link to the companion bills, S.F. No. 552 / H.F. No. 677.

"Horse boarding services" would continue to be exempt, but riding instruction and training services not offered as part of a horse boarding business may not be.  Veterinary services would be exempt as follows:

Subd. 18. Veterinary services provided to a person other than a natural person.
Services of practicing veterinary medicine, as that term is used in chapter 156, and provided 
to persons other than natural persons, are exempt. This includes veterinary services for 
animals kept for economic reasons, including livestock, laboratory animals, working 
animals, animals to be sold at retail in the normal course of business, and sport animals. 

Sales on groceries and other agricultural products would continue to be exempt.  Horses are livestock, and raising them is an agricultural activity. That is enshrined in the law, thanks to a statute passed in 2010 that says so.  (Minn. Stat. 17.459).  A horse boarding and related horse training and riding instruction business is an agricultural land use in the property tax code, Minn. Stat. 273.13 Subd. 23(i)(3).

Horse training and riding instruction is agricultural education that should not be subject to taxation.  In a 2005 U of MN economic impact study, the horse industry was estimated to contribute $1 billion in Minnesota annually, which we cannot afford to jeopardize.  Horse boarding and training businesses are already overwhelmed by insurance costs, transportation and employment costs, and regulatory costs.  Even a small increase in the cost of doing business would threaten an important supply and demand link in our entire agricultural economy.

A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday evening, February 27, 2013 at 7:00 p.m at the State Office Building, Room 200.  Public testimony will be heard, and clarification on some of the bill's provisions may be provided.

To make your voice heard, identify your elected local representatives (here is a link to our State Legislature's "Who Represents Me?" web page) and contact them by email, phone, and regular mail with the message in bold above.  Stay tuned for more information about opportunities to educate the Legislature about the importance of horses in agriculture.