USDA moving ahead with animal biotech reform

USDA is moving ahead with making sweeping reforms to how biotech animals are regulated, according to the first regulatory agenda issued by the Biden administration.

The agenda says the regulatory framework that USDA is considering would put the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in charge of assessing whether biotech animals would be susceptible to pests or diseases or have the ability to transmit them. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service would conduct a pre-slaughter food safety assessment to ensure that the meat would be safe. 

USDA is building off a proposal that the outgoing Trump administration made in its final days. 

Meanwhile: An advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on the labeling of cell-cultured meat is expected in July.

Separately, USDA says it’s going to take action to address concerns about meat and poultry processors’ market power with producers. Three proposed rules are to be issued in the coming months. 

Keep in mind: The rule-making process is a long and laborious one and the new FDA commissioner may have a say on the animal biotech issue since it’s now under FDA’s control.

USTR to meet with UK trade minister in London

After meeting with European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis today and attending an EU-U.S. summit in Brussels tomorrow, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai will travel to London on Wednesday to sit down with British International Trade Secretary Liz Truss.

The U.S. began negotiations with the UK over a free trade agreement more than a year ago under the Trump administration, but the last round of negotiations was in October and the talks have not officially resumed under the Biden administration.

USDA to keep processing debt payments

A USDA official says the department will continue accepting debt-relief applications from minority farmers despite a judge’s order that stops the government from making payments. 
The judge’s intent “is clear in that it stops USDA from making payments,” but the department will be prepared to start providing them once the temporary restraining order is lifted, the official said. 
“USDA will continue to forcefully defend its ability to carry out this act of Congress and deliver debt relief to socially disadvantaged borrowers,” the official said. 
USDA releasing new disaster assistance

USDA will be making more than $1 billion in payments starting Tuesday under the Quality Loss Adjustment Program and Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus. The payments cover losses that farmers suffered in 2018 and 2019. 

Producers who received their first WHIP+ payment will receive a second payment for eligible losses.  Due to budget constraints, producers received only half of their initial WHIP+ payment for 2019 crop losses. The second payment will be worth 40% of the eligible payment. 
A third round of payments may be issued if there is enough money left. 
Meat processing cyberattack prompts Senate to draft legislation

The Senate Homeland Security Committee is asking the Biden administration for input as it works to draft and consider cybersecurity legislation by August.

A letter to the administration comes after recent cyberattacks at meat processor JBS and Colonial Pipeline. “Criminal actors have infiltrated and held critical infrastructure companies’ hostage, disrupting essential elements of society ranging from our nation’s fuel distribution networks to food supply chains,” the letter reads.

The committee is asking for a coordinated administration response, including from the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and intelligence community within 30 days.

Iowa’s Axne blasts Biden over considering oil refiner relief

Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa is calling out the Biden administration after hearing he may consider providing relief to oil refiners from Renewable Fuel Standard blending requirements.

Axne is working to set up a phone call with the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House as soon as possible hopefully by Monday, a congressional aide told Agri-Pulse.

A story originally reported by Reuters noted Biden is facing pressure from labor unions and Delaware Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons to offer oil refiners relief.

“I unequivocally oppose these efforts and I’m letting the White House know this is unacceptable for Iowa,” Axne tweeted Friday.

During the Presidential campaign, Biden touted multiple times how he would roll back small refinery exemptions if elected.

By the way: Axne also signed onto a House Biofuels Caucus letter to the USDA being led by Republican Congressman Rodney Davis of Illinois. The letter is urging the ag department to provide “direct, per-gallon payments for biorefineries” for COVID relief with funds from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

Colorado Legislature Passes Agricultural Workers’ Rights Bill

On June 8, the Colorado Senate passed the Agricultural Workers’ Rights Bill, SB21-087, after several amendments to the original legislation.

In its original form, the bill called on the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to promulgate rules “to establish the overtime pay of agricultural employees for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week or 12 hours in one day.” As it stands now, the bill allows overtime hours and rules to be determined by a CDLE rulemaking process, without specifying when overtime must kick in.

Zach Riley, the Senior Director of Public Policy at Colorado Farm Bureau, told Agri-Pulse, “Colorado Farm Bureau worked tirelessly alongside all of Colorado's agriculture industry to create flexibility and recognize the uniqueness of the food and fiber production industry. It was and is still so important that this legislation works for all employees and employers and does no harm to one of the state's largest economic contributors. The original text of the bill was rigid and punitive, now we believe that compromise can continue to bear fruit in the coming implementation of statute through rulemaking negotiations." 

The Colorado Fruits and Vegetable Growers’ Association was also heavily involved in amending the bill. While CFVG was able to obtain some of its desired amendments, it said, “Not only does this bill hurt farmers, it will greatly diminish  employee paychecks and will eventually lead to less produce raised in Colorado as growers switch crops or sell to development.”

Keep in mind: Gov. Jared Polis still has to sign the bill into law, though CFVGA expects that he will. The CDLE will be required to draft the specific overtime rules that are mandated in the bill by October 31 and these rules have to be adopted by January 31, 2022.