President Biden’s sweeping executive order pledges to address the corporate consolidation in U.S. agribusiness that has long frustrated many farmers, but his administration still has a lot of work to do to deliver on his promised relief.

Major aspects of the order simply require USDA to “consider” issuing rules the department already is working on, including protection of livestock producers under the Packers and Stockyards Act. As expected, the order also directs USDA “to consider issuing new rules defining when meat can bear ‘Product of USA’ labels, so that consumers have accurate, transparent labels that enable them to choose products made here.”

How it went over: Industry reaction has been mixed. The American Farm Bureau Federation’s president, Zippy Duvall, said the order addresses several pressing issues for farmers. He noted “the continued rise in grocery store meat prices while ranchers struggle to break even on the cattle they raise and poultry farmers [are] locked into agreements with very little recourse if they’re underpaid. It’s time to get to the bottom of what’s driving these imbalances.”

But National Chicken Council President Mike Brown said his industry is “one of the least consolidated” in U.S. agriculture, and he called the order “surprising,” given Biden’s “long history of support for the chicken industry.”

Looking ahead: Vilsack promised swift action on Packers & Stockyards Act regulations, which could make them less vulnerable to being rescinded by a subsequent administration. His previous effort to reform the treatment of livestock farmers didn’t survive past the Obama administration.

Capitol fence coming down

Workers remove the Capitol security fencing that had been up since Jan. 6. (Hannah Pagel)

House appropriators seek major increase for worker protections

fiscal 2022 appropriations bill for the Labor Department that the House Appropriations Committee released Sunday would provide major funding increases for the agencies that enforce worker protections.

The Wage and Hour Division would get $300 million in FY22, a $54 million increase over this year and $24 million over what President Biden requested. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration would get $692 million, a $100 million increase over FY21 and $27 million more than Biden proposed.

The Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee will take up the bill today. House Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., says the bill will “lift up struggling families, support the vulnerable, and help prepare our nation for future challenges."

Report: FDA, USDA should coordinate on biotech animal regs

FDA and USDA should develop a “coordinated, streamlined, fact-based, and cost-effective assessment and approval process” for gene-edited livestock, the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities said today, summarizing a report that resulted from an 18-month review.

FDA’s current regulatory framework for genetically modified animals “is based on processes established for transgenic technologies which do not align well with the state-of-the-art gene editing technologies,” the report says. Transgenic changes involve introducing a gene from another organism.

FDA currently regulates intentional genetic alterations as new animal drugs — a process that both the biotech and livestock industries have said is burdensome and unnecessary. The Trump administration proposed shifting regulatory responsibility to USDA, but the Biden administration reopened the comment period and has yet to take action on the issue. 

White House: Cybersecurity is long-term fight

President Biden raised the cybersecurity issue in a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, but the White House emphasized that it will take a broad, sustained effort to protect U.S. infrastructure.

“This is more than just a conversation that’s taking place between the two leaders, President Biden and President Putin.  This is really about our own resilience, as a nation, in the face of these (ransomware) attacks, and strengthening that,” a senior administration official told reporters.

The official went on, “This is a broad campaign and won't have an immediate on-off effect like a light switch, but we’re going to have to stay on top of this over a period of time and remain focused on it.”

Why it matters: The JBS USA attack last month showed that the ag sector is at risk.


China, S. Korea help push up US meat export sales

U.S. export sales of beef and pork were particularly strong in the last days of June and strong purchases by China and South Korea were big contributors, according to the latest USDA trade data.

South Korean importers contracted to buy 10,400 metric tons of U.S. beef, nearly half the weekly total for June 25-July 1, and the Chinese purchased 16,300 tons of U.S. pork, the largest share of the weekly total of 43,800 tons.

As to physical exports, the U.S. shipped 6,500 tons of pork and 3,200 tons of beef to China during the seven-day period. The U.S. also exported 2,400 tons of pork and 4,700 tons of beef to South Korea. Mexico was the largest destination for U.S. pork, taking 13,000 tons.

U.S. egg exporters benefit from Korean demand

South Korea is expanding its tariff rate quota for egg and egg product imports by 36,000 metric tons as demand continues to outpace supply, according to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. South Korea put a 50,000-ton TRQ in place in January to address supply shortages; the U.S. and the U.S. filled about 70% of imports, according to the FAS report out of Seoul.

The first TRQ expired at the end of June, and the new one started July 1.

Korean egg producers were hit hard by high-path avian influenza in late 2020 and early 2021, but the industry believes it will be back up to full laying capacity by the end of August.

Farm policy vet Thieman joins new firm

Karla Thieman, a former advisor to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack who was most recently at The Russell Group, is the newest partner of the Finsbury Glover Hering, where she will join the firm’s food and ag practice.

She was a senior policy advisor for Vilsack during the Obama administration and also was the chief of staff to then-deputy secretary Krysta Harden. Thieman also advised three Democratic chairs of the Senate Agriculture Committee: Tom Harkin of Iowa, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

He said it. “President Biden’s competition executive order is the most substantial commitment to making our economy more competitive and efficient since President Teddy Roosevelt’s trust busting efforts. 120 years ago.” - Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen.  

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