“Life is short, but if you’re lucky, you’ll have enough time to get to do what you want to do. Don’t feel like you have to have your life mapped out when you get your degree.” This is the advice that John Dillard wants to share with students today.

Dillard found what he wanted to do and today enjoys a career as a USDA and FDA regulatory attorney for Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC in Washington, DC.

Dillard earned degrees in Agricultural and Applied Economics and Animal and Poultry Sciences from Virginia Tech. After graduating in 2005, he went on to get his masters in agricultural economics from Purdue University, and a law degree from the University of Richmond Law School.

Here’s his story…

“I got involved with 4-H at an early age, specifically showing and judging livestock.” His involvement brought him to Virginia Tech on many occasions for livestock judging competitions and workshops, so he became familiar with the campus.

Even at a young age, he was having chance encounters with the department. Dillard recalls that in 10th grade he was attending a Virginia Farmer Cooperative Council Youth conference where he met Dixie Watts Dalton, AAEC associate professor of practice and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences OMALS agribusiness concentration coordinator. “It was because of her that I learned about the department and its opportunities.”

And one of the most important reasons he chose Virginia Tech … “My parents Gary ’75 and Colleen ’76 went to Virginia Tech and actually got married in the chapel.” Dillard says with a chuckle, “there was no pressure from them to attend, but I knew I was destined to be a Hokie.”

During Dillard’s time at Virginia Tech, he says that NAMA, the National Agri-Marketing Association, had a real impact on him. It was through NAMA that he got to work with real food manufacturing clients to solve real marketing problems.

“This gave me invaluable experience that I use in my career today. It was a wonderful out-of-classroom learning opportunity that exposed me to real-world industry issues.”

Dillard had a few more internships. He worked on a pasture project at a research station for South Dakota University, spent a summer working on a ranch in Wyoming, and two summers working on a cattle and poultry operation in Virginia, where he learned a lot about cattle, horses, and business operations. This also provided some exposure to how policies and regulations have real-world impacts on farming and ranching operations.

As a regulatory attorney, Dillard provides counsel to clients in the food and agriculture industries and related trade associations.

His primary clients are in the meat and poultry industry and are regulated by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and feed manufacturers regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. These clients seek advice from Dillard on inspection and enforcement matters arising under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, Poultry Products Inspection Act, Egg Products Inspection Act, and the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

“My degrees help me recognize the economics behind my clients’ business decision-making and having familiarity with production models gives me the insight to understand the industries on another level outside the law.”

Dillard’s expertise also helps clients when food recalls occur. “They come to me to help them navigate the recall including the traceability process.” Food traceability allows us to follow the movement of a food product and its ingredients through all steps in the supply chain, both backward and forward. Traceability involves documenting and linking the production, processing, and distribution chain of food products and ingredients.

Dillard also assists clients with matters that are regulated by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, such as counsel and representation on Packers and Stockyards Administration (formerly GIPSA) matters, the National Organic Program, USDA Process Verified Program, meat grading, and hemp.

In his spare time, Dillard writes a column for the Farm Journal.

Recently his latest article was published with AgWeb.com “Supreme Court Hops in the Pig Pen.” Dillard discusses the question the U.S. Supreme Court is pondering in National Pork Producers Council v. Ross.

{Excerpt} Can California’s voters dictate how hogs are raised in Indiana based on animal welfare concerns? That is effectively the question the U.S. Supreme Court is pondering in a pending case, National Pork Producers Council v. Ross. 

The case has implications for food production well beyond raising hogs. Depending on how the Supreme Court rules, it could open the door for states to start metaphorical food fights — with food laws.

Read this article and others by Dillard.

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By Melissa Vidmar