Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is in California today, where he is expected to announce another series of efforts to improve competition in agribusiness and address a meat labeling issue that has dogged the agency for years.
Vilsack is in San Francisco today where he’ll address the National Farmers Union’s annual meeting and make what USDA is describing as “major announcements on USDA’s efforts to promote competition.” Among the slate of declarations expected from Vilsack is details on USDA’s plans to implement voluntary “Product of the USA” labeling.
Following the repeal of mandatory country-of-origin labeling, attention shifted to the integrity of packages marked as a “Product of the USA” to ensure it wasn’t applied to foreign product being packaged in American facilities.
In a 2019 petition to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association called for the label to be limited to beef from cattle born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S., the same requirements for the former mCOOL regime. In June 2021, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association filed a petition asking USDA to change the label to “Processed in the USA."
“Simply adding born, raised and harvested requirements to an already broken label will fail to deliver additional value to cattle producers and it will undercut true voluntary, market-driven labels that benefit cattle producers,” NCBA lobbyist Kent Bacus told Agri-Pulse. “We cannot afford to replace one flawed government label with another flawed government label.”
Also this week: While Vilsack is in the Bay Area, he will make a side trip to Contra Costa County to visit a local school and highlight the administration’s efforts to improve school nutrition. Last month, USDA proposed to restrict the sugar content of school meals, while tightening sodium limits and increasing whole grains requirements. 
Meanwhile, school nutrition directors from around the country are in Washington for the School Nutrition Association’s annual legislative action conference. A key message of the group: Leave the existing nutrition standards alone.
Climate rally: About 1,000 farmers, workers and activists will be in Washington starting today to push Congress to use the next farm bill to take additional steps to address climate change. They’re holding a rally on Tuesday.
For more on this week’s ag policy calendar, read our Washington Week Ahead.
‘Waters’ fight rolls on; implementation date two weeks away 
The Biden administration says the Commonwealth of Kentucky and business groups have not even established standing in their attempt to block implementation of the new “waters of the U.S.” rule scheduled to take effect March 20.
In papers filed in federal court in Kentucky Friday, EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, through the Justice Department, said that while the state, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups have filed numerous individual declarations to support their challenge, they “allege no specific injuries traceable to the 2023 rule. And it is difficult to see how they could. The declarations have a common defect: Plaintiffs’ claims of harm are premised on either a complete disregard for the rule’s similarity to the status quo or overstatements of their slight differences.”
Waiting for SCOTUS: The government also called the notion put forth by the plaintiffs that waiting for the Supreme Court’s Sackett decision “creates uncertainty and that this uncertainty constitutes an irreparable harm” that would support an injunction a “quintessential conjecture.”
The question, instead, “is whether plaintiffs have suffered irreparable injury caused by the rule, not how a forthcoming court decision may affect its implementation,” the government said.
Also on Friday, environmental groups moved to intervene to defend the new rule. The National Wildlife Federation, Florida Wildlife Federation, Izaak Walton League of America and other groups are represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Farm Bureau estimates over $21.4B in crop losses came from 2022 natural disasters
Natural disasters created more than $21.4 billion in crop and rangeland losses in 2022, according to estimates recently published by the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Economists with the farm group calculate that over $20 billion in crop losses came from drought and wildfires in the Midwest and Great Plains, while May hail storms and severe weather in Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin accounted for around $410 million in losses.
Approximately $368 million in crop damage resulted from a June derecho in Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin, while $200.8 million came from severe weather in the Midwest in July.
Hurricanes Ian, Nicole and Fiona caused around $40.6 million in crop losses, the group estimates.

Don’t miss a beat! It’s easy to sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse news! For the latest on what’s happening in Washington, D.C. and around the country in agriculture, just click here.
Take note: The farm group says estimates do not include infrastructure damage, livestock losses, horticulture crop losses or timber losses and should be seen as a “minimum baseline” of overall damage. 
NPPC encouraged by Philippine track to expedite imports
The Philippines is making progress on a goal to expedite the process of accrediting foreign meat companies for import, and the National Pork Producers Council says it is watching closely for developments that are expected to benefit U.S. producers and exporters.
The Philippines has become a much bigger market for U.S. pork in recent years after the country decided to cut tariffs as it battles African swine fever. The Philippines cut its in-quota tariffs on pork from 30% to 15% and for out-of-quota tariffs from 40% to 25%. The cuts were supposed to expire at the end of 2022, but the country decided to extend the lower rates through 2023.
The U.S. exported $133 million worth of pork to the Philippines in 2022. That’s less than the record level of $204 million worth of exports in 2021, but still strong, according to NPPC.
They said it: “Plaintiffs’ fears that the new rule imposes a regulatory sea change that greatly expands the scope of (Clean Water Act) jurisdiction or the definition of ‘significant nexus’ are baseless.” – EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, opposing motions by Kentucky and business groups to block the Biden administration’s WOTUS rule.
Questions, comments, tips? Email Steve Davies.