Biden goes after consolidation

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— President Joe Biden’s sweeping executive order is aimed at increasing competition and reducing consolidation across multiple sectors — including the meatpacking industry.

— Washington became the second state in the Northwest to pass emergency heat rules last week as the region enters its fourth week of scorching temperatures.

— Lawmakers return from recess with a big task waiting for them: passing a large infrastructure package before the August break.

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ANTITRUST ORDER SIGNED: Biden’s much-anticipated executive order on Friday aimed at increasing competition across multiple sectors including agriculture, broadband and transportation is already sparking opposition from big business.

The order looks to build off of an Obama era executive order which encouraged agencies to consider competition impacts in their decisions. But that order was not closely followed and was later overturned by Trump appointees, reports Pro’s Leah Nylen.

Impact on ag: Following the signing of the executive order, the Agriculture Department unveiled new funding and regulations to reduce concentration in the meat sector, reports our Ryan McCrimmon.

USDA will offer $500 million in grants, loans, and other assistance to help new meat and poultry processors enter the market, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in Iowa on Friday. The department will also move forward with a series of regulations to protect farmers and ranchers who work with large agribusinesses.

USDA is also moving to enhance its enforcement of the century-old Packers and Stockyards Act, which monitors anti-competitive practices in the meat and poultry sector; increase whistleblower protections; and tighten the rules for poultry grower tournament systems — a payment system where farmers are ranked against each other.

Biden’s executive order could also end the merger of North America’s two largest freight railroads, Canadian National and Kansas City Southern, a deal that’s being evaluated by the Surface Transportation Board, Pro Transportation’s Sam Mintz reports.

What they’re saying: The North American Meat Institute, which represents processors, warned that the regulatory efforts would have “unintended consequences for consumers and producers.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also criticized the move. “Our economy needs both large and small businesses to thrive — not centralized government dictates,” the Chamber said in a release. “In many industries, size and scale are important not only to compete, but also to justify massive levels of investment.”

Farmer advocacy groups largely praised the administration’s plans as an overdue effort to even the playing field between small producers and large corporations. Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) called the order “an important step toward implementing the funds from the American Rescue Plan and previous Covid-19 relief packages.”

THE RACE IS ON FOR INFRASTRUCTURE: Lawmakers are back in Washington today after a two-week July recess. At the forefront of discussions remains Biden’s large infrastructure bill, which would include money for broadband expansion, climate change efforts, and easing Western water shortages.

“Democrats’ decisions in the coming days will define what may be the largest spending bill in history, offering their best chance at reshaping the federal government for years to come,” report POLITICO’s Burgess Everett and Sarah Ferris. “Biden’s party has a rare opportunity with full control over Congress and the White House, but its majorities are so slim that even attempting the two-part move will be a daredevil act.”

Up in the air: Funding mechanisms for the package are still being negotiated, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may still not be on board.

Getting the bill passed will require intense coordination by Schumer, Pelosi and committee leaders, Burgess and Sarah report. That includes getting it through both the Senate and the House.

BIDEN SHOOTS PUTIN A WARNING: Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that the U.S. would “take any necessary action” to defend critical American infrastructure in light of recent cyberattacks by Russian criminals — including the one on JBS which stalled meat production in plants for several days, report POLITICO’s Quint Forgey and Nahal Toosi.

Other recent attacks include a digital strike on the Colonial Pipeline and an attack announced on Friday that targeted IT software management vendor Kaseya.

WASHINGTON ISSUES EMERGENCY HEAT RULES: As the Northwest enters its fourth week of excessive heat conditions, Washington state’s Labor and Industry Department is issuing emergency rules to provide added protections for farmworkers from heat-related illness.

Washington is one of three states — alongside California and Minnesota — that have standards on the books for employers during periods of excessive heat. But farmworker advocates and unions have been lobbying Gov. Jay Inslee to increase those protections amid unprecedented temperatures.

The new rules include mandates on providing cool water, ensuring workers have a paid cool-down rest period of at least 10 minutes every two hours, and requiring heat exposure safety trainings and response.

The announcement came after Oregon last week approved its own emergency heat rules for workers following the death of a farmworker.

Still, the rules in both states are temporary, lasting for 120 days, prompting advocacy groups to call for more permanent regulations.

— House appropriators released the final fiscal 2022 funding bills with the goal of finishing all markups this week. In the lineup are bills for the Energy-Water and Labor-HHS-Education committees, Pro Budget’s Caitlin Emma writes.

— Free samples have returned to many stores and with them has come added safety protocols to ease customer concerns, reports the Associated Press.

— Disputes over the rule in Mexico to ban genetically modified corn coming from the country’s agriculture ministry has resulted in uncertainty and concern from the ag and food industry. Reuters has more.

— Some farmers are turning to their grandparents’ farming techniques to reduce the impacts of climate change while increasing the quality of their meat, according to the BBC.

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