Biden Signs Executive Order to Address Competition with a Focus on Ag

by Colter Brown

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President Biden issued his much-anticipated Executive Order on Friday that aims to promote competition in the American Economy. The order includes 72 initiatives, several of which deal directly with agriculture.

The President is directing USDA to consider issuing new rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act to make it easier for farmers to bring forth and win claims against chicken processors who exploit or underpay farmers.

The order also directs USDA to consider new rules to define when meat can bear product of the USA labels, so that consumers have access to accurate and transparent labels. USDA did announce last week, that they’ll be doing a top to bottom review of the Product of the USA label and are asking for public input.

The White House is also addressing the controversial “Right to Repair” issue by encouraging the Federal Trade Commission to limit equipment manufactures from restricting farmers ability to use independent repair shows or do repairs themselves on equipment.

Finally, the executive order directs the ag department to increase opportunities for farmers to access markets including supporting alternative food distribution systems like farmers markets and developing standards and labels.

Following the President’s Executive Order signing, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack held a press conference at a small meat processing facility in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he announced $500 million in funding for small and medium meat processors.

“The COVID-19 pandemic led to massive disruption for growers, food workers, and consumers alike. It exposed a food system that was rigid, consolidated, and fragile. Meanwhile, those growing, processing and preparing our food are earning less each year in a system that rewards size over all else,” said Secretary Vilsack. “To shift the balance of power back to the people, USDA will invest in building more, better, and fairer markets for producers and consumers alike. This is a once in a generation opportunity to transform the food system so it is more resilient to shocks, delivers greater value to growers and workers, and offers consumers an affordable selection of healthy food produced and sourced locally and regionally by farmers and processors from diverse backgrounds.

Through USDA’s Build Back Better Initiative they will invest $500 million from the American Rescue Plan to support new competitive entrants in meat and poultry processing. USDA will provide grants, loans, and technical assistance to address concentration within the meat and poultry sectors and relieve supply chain bottlenecks by supporting new meat and poultry processing facilities. These facilities will create competitive opportunities for producers in local and regional food systems so that farmers and ranchers have access to better choices and fairer prices.

USDA will also invest more than $55 million in strengthening existing small and very small meat processing capacity, benefitting smaller producers and processing plants. USDA has made $55.2 million available for Meat and Poultry Inspection Readiness Grants to support expanded meat and poultry slaughter and processing capacity and efficiency while maintaining strong inspection and food safety standards.

The Ag Department will also dedicate $100 million to help small and very small processing plants weather the volatility and unexpected costs that COVID imposed. With American Rescue Plan funds, USDA will provide $100 million to reduce the financial burden of overtime inspection fees for small and very small poultry, meat and egg processing plants, which provide farmers with local alternatives and greater capacity to process livestock.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall says the action comes, “at a time when many in the farm supply chain are frustrated.” Duvall adds that more opportunities for farmers and ranchers to sell their products will ensure they are paid fairly while providing more options for America’s families.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane said, “We thank President Biden and Secretary Vilsack for the leadership and swift action they’ve shown on some of the top issues impacting our producers, including ‘Product of the USA’ labeling and grants to expand regional, independent processing capacity. Today’s executive order is a vital next step toward securing a steady beef supply chain, and increasing opportunities for profitability for our producers. We have actively engaged the administration on these issues thus far, and we will continue to advocate for the needs of American cattle producers as the rulemaking processes begin.”

R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said, “We’ve urged Administration after Administration for the past 20 years to begin proper enforcement of both antitrust laws and the 100-year-old Packers and Stockyards Act and this is the first Administration to actually take action. If these rules are brought to fruition, they will go a long way toward rebalancing the disparate market power between the highly concentrated beef packers and the widely disaggregated independent cattle feeders, backgrounders, stockers and cow/calf producers.”

 


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