USDA Competition Rules Coming

White House Spotlights USDA, Agriculture in Pending Executive Order

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki highlighted competition issues at USDA during her daily press briefing on Tuesday. Psaki pointed to issues related to labeling the origin of meat, rules for Packers and Stockyards Act enforcement and the right to repair tractors. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- President Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order on competition in the next few days. The White House press secretary on Tuesday told reporters during her daily press briefing some of the expected moves to come out of the executive order are directly related to USDA and agriculture. At least some of these issues raised by the White House have already been announced by USDA over the past month.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki spoke Tuesday about President Biden's forthcoming executive order on competition and highlighted multiple agricultural competition topics, including "right to repair" and "Product of USA" labeling.

As Psaki noted, USDA is announcing a series of proposed rules to increase competition in agriculture "to boost farmers' and ranchers' earnings, fight back against abuses of power by giant agribusiness corporations, and give farmers the right to repair their own equipment how they like."

Psaki acknowledged the executive order would provide a pathway for farmers to repair their tractors and limit equipment manufacturers from using proprietary software to perform repairs. Reuters had reported earlier Tuesday that the "right to repair" issue actually flows through the Federal Trade Commission, which released a report in May on repair restrictions involving several high-tech industries.

In characterizing the executive order's impact on agriculture, Psaki said, "The president's executive order will follow through on a campaign promise by directing USDA to issue new rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act, making it easier for farmers to bring and win claims, stopping chicken processors from exploiting and underpaying chicken farmers, and adapting anti-retaliation protections for farmers who speak out about bad practices."

USDA announced back on June 11 that the department would begin work on three new rules to address enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act. The proposal would further clarify what USDA considers as "unfair, unjustly, unjustifiably discriminatory or deceptive."

Second, USDA will propose a new poultry grower tournament system rule, with the current inactive proposal to be withdrawn. USDA had attempted to change the poultry tournament system under the Obama administration, but had failed.

Third, USDA will re-propose a rule to clarify that parties do not need to demonstrate harm to competition to bring an action under section 202 (a) and 202 (b) of the P&S Act. This has been a longstanding battle over packer influence and defining anticompetitive practices.

(DTN: USDA to Propose New P&S Rules https://www.dtnpf.com/…)

Psaki said USDA also will issue new rules defining when meat can be considered "Product of the USA" following a Federal Trade Commission decision last week. As DTN reported last week, USDA will conduct a "top-to-bottom review" of the Product of USA label. Under current rules, beef that comes into the U.S. from other countries, but is processed in the U.S., can then be called Product of USA.

(DTN: Defining Product of USA for Food https://www.dtnpf.com/…)

Psaki told White House reporters, "Something I learned that I found a little outrageous -- we'll see what you all think -- is that under current labeling rules, most grass-fed beef labeled 'Product of USA' is actually raised and slaughtered abroad, and then imported to the U.S. for processing."

The press secretary added, "The president and the USDA believe it is unfair for domestic farmers and ranchers to have to compete with foreign companies that are misleading consumers."

Psaki also told reporters the executive order will direct USDA "to develop a plan to increase opportunities for farmers to access markets and receive a fair return, including supporting alternative food distribution systems like farmer -- farmers markets, and developing standards and labels that consumers can choose to buy products that treat farmers and agricultural workers fairly."

Following Psaki's comments on the executive order and USDA actions, the press secretary got zero questions about these issues from White House reporters.

Along with these announcements from the White House press briefing, USDA also stated Tuesday that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be in Omaha on Friday for an announcement. USDA did not provide further details on the topic or the venue.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

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Chris Clayton