The Justice Department is expanding efforts to combat anticompetitive practices in the ag industry. 

Michael Kades, deputy assistant attorney general in DOJ’s antitrust division, told attendees at R-CALF’s annual convention Friday that DOJ will “stand up a team of enforcers focused on agriculture,” based out of Chicago. “They will have the leadership and the commitment of our entire division behind them,” Kades said. “They will focus on the hard cases and the big swings.”

National Farmers Union President Rob Larew responded to the announcement in a statement, “The increased focus on antitrust enforcement is a vital step toward ensuring fair competition and protecting family farmers and ranchers.”

In an interview with Agri-Pulse, R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard noted that DOJ has been investigating the Big Four meat companies since the days of COVID. He said “this appears to be a step related to that.”

Kades said DOJ hopes to learn from those in the industry. “We have heard about troubling reports about the conduct of some buyers at some auction barn — conduct that could be illegal,” he said, informing attendees how they can share information with DOJ or USDA.

EPA formally petitioned to boost biodiesel, RD mandates

A group representing biodiesel and renewable diesel producers is formally petitioning EPA to raise the usage mandates for biomass-based diesel. The industry argues EPA set the renewable volume obligations too low, leading to a crash in prices for renewable identification numbers, or RINs, and hammering producers. 

Clean Fuels Alliance America is asking EPA to raise the biomass-based diesel RVO for 2024 from 3.04 billion gallons this year to 5.1 billion gallons. That number is equivalent to the actual production in 2023, plus 500 million gallons. 

Clean Fuels wants EPA to raise the 2025 RVO another 500 million gallons to 5.6 billion. The 2025 RVO is currently set at 3.35 billion gallons. 

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The Clean Fuels petition notes that the group argued for higher RVOs when EPA was writing the “set rule” that fixed the mandated levels for 2023 through 2025. "We warned EPA that a 'no growth' scenario as was proposed would have devastating consequences on the investments being made to meet the GHG reduction goals of the country. Unfortunately, we are now experiencing those consequences today,” the petition says.  

HPAI can affect milk production after virus recovery, NMPF scientist says

The chief scientist for the National Milk Producers Federation says that while most cows that recover after having been “clinically affected” by highly pathogenic avian influenza regain milk production in 30 to 45 days, some don’t.

“Some do not recover milk production at all,” Jamie Jonker said on a webinar sponsored by the Council on Agricultural Science and Technology.

In a follow-up conversation, Jonker emphasized he does not have the data to say what percentage of lactating cows may lose production completely, but it appears to be a “small amount.”

The long-term impact of the H5N1 virus on production also is unknown at this point, he said.

“We’re probably not going to understand until this fall if there's any lasting impacts for those cows that have essentially been dried off because of the H5N1 infection,” Jonker said.

Supreme Court takes up NEPA case

The Supreme Court is taking up a case involving the authority of federal agencies to look at the “indirect” effects of projects when conducting National Environmental Policy Act reviews.

The court agreed Monday to hear arguments in a dispute over a proposed rail line in Utah that was approved by the Surface Transportation Board but then blocked by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court found last August that the STB should have more fully considered the environmental impacts of the project, which is meant to increase oil drilling in the Uinta Basin.

But a coalition of seven Utah counties and the railway company said the D.C. Circuit has been the go-to venue for NEPA litigants who want to stop projects, and that five other federal appeals courts take a more narrow view of the law.

“This court’s intervention would restore manageable lines to the NEPA process, where they have too often been missing,” the counties said in their reply brief. The court is expected to hear the case sometime this fall.

The Wyoming Stock Growers Association and a ranching company in Utah filed an amicus brief in support of the petition, also asking the court to resolve the “circuit split.”

Canned coffee brands voluntarily recalled nationwide

More than 250 canned coffee products distributed nationwide were voluntarily recalled over concerns that the manufacturer’s low-acid canned foods process could lead to botulism, a potentially fatal type of food poisoning. 

The Food and Drug Administration notified the canned coffee manufacturer, Snapchill LLC, that its low-acid canned foods process for the products was not filed with the agency. There’s concern the process could lead to the growth of botulinum toxin, which if ingested can cause dizziness, difficulty speaking, swallowing or breathing, and general weakness. 

The products were distributed through various coffee roasters and retail locations, and are sold under a range of brand names in metal cans ranging from 7 to 12 ounces, according to the FDA notice. Recalled items have “Produced and distributed by Snapchill LLC” under the nutrition facts panel. 

No illnesses have been reported, and the manufacturer is not aware of any instances of the products containing the toxin. 

“At Snapchill, the safety and satisfaction of our customers are our highest priorities, and we are working swiftly to resolve the issue,” the company wrote on its website. “We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience or concern this recall may cause. We are working with the FDA on solutions to restart production within standards.”

The full recalled product list is available here

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