The Food Safety and Inspection Service is extending the comment period on its proposed rule for a voluntary “Product of USA” labeling claim on meat until June 11 after receiving requests from the North American Meat Institute and the government of Canada.

NAMI sought a 90-day extension but Canada asked for just 30 more days, which is what FSIS granted. The proposal would allow voluntary “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” claims to be used on FSIS-regulated products derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States.
NAMI came out sharply against the proposed rule when it was released in March, and both Canada and Mexico have voiced concerns.

The Consumer Federation of America and other groups, however, opposed the extension requests. CFA, along with Consumer Reports, Food & Water Watch, and the National Family Farm Coalition, said FSIS “should finalize and implement this rule as soon as possible.”

USDA offers $75 million for financial and technical assistance to organic farmers

Organic farmers will receive $70 million in direct assistance to adopt a new organic management standard and another $5 million to partner with new organic technical experts to increase staff capacity and expertise, USDA said Monday. The funds are allocated under the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).

“Producers transitioning to organic can count on NRCS for assistance through the process,” Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Terry Cosby said in a news release. “By strengthening our technical proficiency and providing technical and financial assistance through new tools and practices, we can better support producers through the challenges of organic transition.”  

NRCS will help producers adopt the new organic management standard under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program or EQIP, “which allows flexibility for producers to get the assistance and education they need such as attending workshops or requesting help from experts or mentors. It supports conservation practices required for organic certification and may provide foregone income reimbursement for dips in production during the transition period,” the agency said.

NRCS will dedicate $5 million to partner with six organic technical experts through five-year agreements. These services include hosting hands-on organic training and fielding organic-related staff questions. One organic research position will support this network. NRCS said it will post a Notice of Funding Opportunity on this week, which outlines requirements for proposals from regional organizations and partners.

FAS sees more corn and less rice coming out of Brazil

USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service is now predicting Brazil will produce 133 million metric tons of corn in all three of its growing seasons for the 2023-24 marketing year. That’s more than a 6% increase from the 125 million tons in the previous marketing year.

“Brazilian corn production continues to exceed expectations, with another record-breaking harvest,” according to the report out of the FAS office in Brasilia. “With high demand for corn both domestically and internationally, farmers remain optimistic about continuing planting, resulting in an increase in expected planted area next season.”

Meanwhile, Brazilian farmers are expected to produce their smallest rice crop in 25 years due to prolonged drought in the south and “low profitability for farmers,” FAS said.

The Brasilia office is now predicting Brazil will produce about 10.1 million tons of paddy rice, equivalent to about 6.8 million tons of milled rice.

Socially disadvantaged producers press lawsuit against USDA over ARPA debt relief

USDA owes socially disadvantaged farmers the debt relief they were promised in the American Rescue Plan Act, lawyers for four plaintiffs said in a response to the government’s motion to dismiss their claim.

Despite returning the proper forms following passage of the debt relief language in ARPA, which included $4 billion in debt relief for “socially disadvantaged producers,” the plaintiffs never received their payments. Instead, after multiple federal courts said the law was unconstitutional, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which made the debt relief available to any and all “distressed borrowers.”

The four plaintiffs – three African-American producers and one Native American – are alleging breach of contract. In its motion to dismiss, the government said the plaintiffs’ factual allegations “do not state a plausible claim that they formed any contract with the United States, whether express or implied-in-fact.”

Brazil’s soy harvest jumps to 82% complete

Brazilian farmers have completed 82% of this year’s soybean harvest as work intensifies in the north of the country and crop failures are confirmed in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, according to the consulting firm AgRural.

“In this final stretch of the harvest, work is concentrated in (Brazil’s) North (and) Northeast, where productivity reports remain very good,” says AgRural.

The harvest is going much slower in the southern states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, according to the firm, which stressed that “low yields reported confirm the crop failure due to drought” in Rio Grande do Sul.

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AgRural lowered its forecast in March for Brazilian soybean production to 150.9 million metric tons. USDA’s latest prediction is for 153 million tons. Brazil harvested 129.5 million tons of soybeans last year.

New executive order looks at reform of regulatory analyses, comments

A new executive order from the Biden administration requires the Office of Management and Budget to consider how to make comment periods on proposed rules and guidance more efficient, and how to broaden the scope of federal agency analyses of those proposals.

“Regulatory analysis, as practicable and appropriate, shall recognize distributive impacts and equity, to the extent permitted by law,” the order says. In other words, agencies should look at the impacts of regulations on people of different socioeconomic backgrounds.

In addition, the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs will consider “guidance or tools to modernize the notice-and-comment process, including through technological changes.” Reforms could include ways to deal with “mass comments, computer-generated comments (such as those generated through artificial intelligence), and falsely attributed comments.”

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