In February, Kim Walker of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP was named both an all-star and a most valuable player, primarily because the man knows the food and agriculture industry. The awards were delivered by BTI Consulting Group, which provides market research to law firms. In 1990, Walker co-founded the Des Moines office of Minneapolis-based Faegre & Benson LLP, making it the first national law firm with an office in the metro area. The firm was renamed after a merger in 2012, and Walker now leads an international practice of 150 lawyers who specialize in food and agriculture. He is a small-town Iowa boy who worked on a farm but never seriously considered a life on the farm. He likes to say that he is a communicator who was drawn to both journalism and the law. Though based in Des Moines, Walker’s workweeks are split between Des Moines and Minneapolis.


During your 30-year career, you’ve specialized in media law and antitrust litigation. Why food?

It’s global. It’s essential. It has a connection to Iowa and the heartland. … In the food industry today, a lot of it deals with attempts by the federal government to regulate food safety. … In addition to that, there are more and more consumer fraud lawsuits that are being brought based on labeling of foods. We end up representing a variety of our core food clients around the country with respect to the claims that are brought around the labeling -- whether it’s natural or other representations. Then of course, any of us in the food industry are spending a fair amount of time strategizing around the issues of genetic engineering or genetically modified products. You’re well aware of the California initiative that failed, but there are initiatives in the state of Washington and other states that would require labeling, which would create very serious pressures and disruptions on the supply chain in the United States. In Europe, it’s an entirely different market. But in the United States, genetically engineered or genetically modified food products have been the norm.


What kind of pressures are brought by labeling?

The labeling itself creates a pressure because all of a sudden you’re categorizing products in a new way that’s not previously been required, and then you’ve got your definitions around what does genetically engineered or genetically modified mean, and right now there’s arguably not a standardized definition. It creates a lot of challenges along the supply chain. When you start tearing down genetic engineering and genetic modification, that doesn’t just start in the processing stage. We live in a state with a company, DuPont Pioneer, that is literally helping feed the world in part through genetic engineering and genetic modification. There are many of us in the industry who strongly believe that genetic engineering and genetic modification is critical to feeding the world because it is what has allowed for the productivity to increase so dramatically. Farmers today produce so much more per acre than they did before, and one of those reasons is their ability to have enhanced products to be able to do that. If you look at any of the major companies who are on the seed or chemical input side, the whole issue of genetic engineering and modification is just an integral part of their strategies and platforms. And what I remind everybody of is that this is not an issue of corporate America; this is an issue of my neighbors back in Washington, Iowa. It’s important to what they can do, it’s important to what the food processors are able to produce, and then it’s important to what we are able to make available around the world. I understand that there are different views on it, and I’m certainly not weighing in on all of the public policy issues.


You grew up in a rural community, but didn’t envision yourself living down on the farm. Why not?

I worked on farms. Honestly, I’m not sure I ever thought of myself as getting actively involved in the food and agriculture industry. My brother was a hog farmer, so I spent a lot of time working on hog farms. But again, I think what I have found is that the business is so sophisticated and it is so globally important and it surrounds an essential commodity, that from my standpoint, I find it so exciting to be a small part of it.


Is most of your focus on consumer challenges?

There’s no doubt that we’re seeing more and more consumer fraud actions … and that’s just going to be the reality at this point. ...But it has been the global aspect of it that has become so tense. I spoke in China twice in the last 18 months because the whole issue of global food safety has become so much more intense.