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HomeIndustry News62 Groups to Biden: Swift Completion of Packers and Stockyards Act Rules...

62 Groups to Biden: Swift Completion of Packers and Stockyards Act Rules Needed to Protect Historic Competition Advances

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today 62 organizations sent a letter to President Biden expressing concern that “that the pace of USDA’s progress on its [Packers and Stockyards] Act rulemakings could put them in jeopardy.”

President Biden’s historic executive order on competition (EO) directed USDA to revitalize the Packers and Stockyards (P&S) Act by issuing new rules to strengthen it. The P&S Act, a 100-year-old law protecting farmers and ranchers from concentrated monopoly power in the livestock industry, successfully leveled the economic playing field for decades before courts eroded its power.

“We support USDA’s recently finalized P&S Act rule to increase clarity and transparency in poultry growing contracts and the pending rule to provide stronger protections for market vulnerable individuals, but the most essential aspects of the work to strengthen the P&S Act remain in limbo,” the letter said. “USDA has yet to propose a more comprehensive rule addressing abuses in the contract poultry growing system and a rule clarifying USDA’s long-standing interpretation that it is unnecessary under the P&S Act to demonstrate industry-wide harm to establish a violation of the Act.”

The groups noted that the rules are “vulnerable to opponents of competitive agricultural markets” until they are finalized. Delays instigated by these opponents caused a similar attempt to strengthen the P&S Act to fail during the Obama-Biden administration.

“To ensure our nation’s farmers and ranchers can thrive, USDA must restore the P&S Act by swiftly finalizing a strong set of rules,” the letter said.

Noting that this administration “has done more to fight monopoly power and enforce our antitrust laws than any in recent memory,” the letter applauded the Justice Department (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) work toward the EO’s directives to improve competition in the food and farm system. The groups also expressed appreciation for the work USDA has done toward the EO, including its “partnership with state attorneys general to address anticompetitive practices by dominant firms in agricultural supply chains.”

Led by Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform, Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment, Farm Action, National Farmers Union, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, and Western Organization of Resource Councils, the letter lists 62 total signing organizations.

“There is no victory for America’s farmers and ranchers unless USDA delivers an end to the rigged poultry tournament payment system and restores an individual’s right to hold meatpackers accountable in a court of law,” said Joe Maxwell, a Missouri farmer and chief strategy officer at Farm Action.

“The Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA) is a strong law providing important protections for our nation’s livestock and poultry farmers against abusive meat and poultry industry practices,” said Steve Etka of the Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform. “However, without strong USDA regulations to enforce that law, those protections are false promises. The Biden Administration’s actions to advance competition in our economy, including the initial Packers and Stockyards Act rules, are historic. But USDA’s pace in completing the remaining PSA rules puts that work in jeopardy.”

“Our members lived through dramatic shifts in the hog industry that replaced independent producers raising hogs on diversified farms with factory farms controlled by the largest meat packers. Now we see the same trend in cattle,” said Patty Lovera of the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment. “It’s past time for USDA to finally enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act to level the playing field for independent producers.”

“Most Americans have no idea how the Packers and Stockyards Act impacts their lives as consumers and how the lack of enforcement affects small ranchers and farmers who struggle to provide food for this nation,” said Joyce Evans, a member of the Powder River Basin Resource Council and a 4th-generation rancher who has raised cattle for 50+years. “If large, powerful companies are going to be stopped from pushing out small producers and taking advantage of consumers, the USDA must complete its Packers and Stockyards Act rulemaking process and address unfair practices like Alternative Marketing Agreements (aka: Captive supplies).”

The USDA and the Biden Administration have made good faith steps for us to try to address market issues, but Congress needs to act now. We had good prices for a while but once again packers are manipulating markets to bring them down once again by increasing imports. In North Dakota we are seeing feeder cattle going down as much as 200-300 a head compared to what they would be earlier this year.  We need more than 3-4 choices to sell to. Consumers have a choice, why shouldn’t producers,” said Corey Hart, a rancher and member of Dakota Resource Council.

“My small operation depends on good market prices,” continued Jenna Van Horne, a Rancher and Member of Dakota Resource Council. “Strong rules, mandatory country of origin labeling, and a base price for my cattle would go a long way in making sure that I’m competitive against larger operations.  We have high quality cattle and proper labeling ensures that we will be paid a fair price for our products.”

“The Biden Administration has done more than any in a generation to take on corporate monopolies. As a part of this effort, USDA has taken many critical steps to promote fair and competitive markets for family farmers and ranchers,” said National Farmers Union President Rob Larew. “Their ongoing work to reinvigorate the Packers and Stockyards Act is essential and now is the time to complete the remaining rules.”

“The USDA has been a strong collaborator with the Department of Justice in several important Packers and Stockyards Act complaints over the past two years, and has made more progress in its efforts to strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act than any administration in decades,” said Aaron Johnson of Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA. “At the same time, it is critical that USDA not take its foot off the gas, as additional badly needed reforms that have been called for by ranchers and growers for decades — including action against unfair tournament systems — remain to be proposed. USDA must finish what it has started.”

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