USDA, Justice Department seek solutions to meat pricing woes
Speaking at a Jan. 3 White House event focused on competition in agriculture, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Attorney General Merrick Garland expressed their shared commitment to effectively enforcing federal competition laws that protect farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural producers and growers from unfair and anticompetitive practices, including the antitrust laws and the Packers and Stockyards Act.
“Producers all across the country for too long have faced a marketplace that benefits a few large companies over those who are growing our food,” said Vilsack. “This means that consumers are paying more and farmers, ranchers and producers see less of the profits. The pandemic only further disrupted these challenges across the supply chain, exposing a food system that was rigid, consolidated, and fragile. Antitrust and market regulatory enforcement is essential to enabling the competition necessary to transform our concentrated supply chains in favor of diversified, resilient food systems. These are complex, difficult areas of law, and our authorities are 100 years old or more, but I'm heartened by reaffirming our shared commitment to tackle these challenges together.”
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall welcomed the agencies’ efforts to ensure U.S. farmers and ranchers enjoy access to the benefits of a fair market.
“AFBF appreciates the Biden administration’s continued work to ensure a fair and competitive meat processing system. We must get to the bottom of why farmers and ranchers continue to receive low payments while families across America endure rising meat prices,” Duvall said. “Farmers and ranchers want a fair shake. The joint initiative between USDA and the Department of Justice to create an online portal to report competition law violations, and efforts to strengthen the Packers & Stockyards Act, will go a long way to ensuring fairness in the industry. More accurately defining ‘Product of the USA’ labeling will also allow families to make more well-informed decisions at the grocery store.”
The USDA and Department of Justice (DOJ) indicated that they are already working together to support enforcement efforts under these laws. As one step in that continuing process, on Jan. 3 they released the following statement of principles and commitments:
• The agencies will jointly develop within 30 days a centralized, accessible process for farmers, ranchers, and other producers and growers to submit complaints about potential violations of the antitrust laws and the Packers and Stockyards Act. The agencies will protect the confidentiality of the complainants, if they so request, to the fullest extent possible under the law and also commit to supporting relevant whistleblower protections, including newly-applicable protections for criminal antitrust complainants against unlawful retaliation;
• The agencies will work together to promote effective information sharing and case cooperation, including processes the agencies will follow to efficiently address a complaint;
• Both agencies commit to vigorously enforce the laws that protect farmers, ranchers, and other producers and growers from unfair, deceptive, discriminatory, and anticompetitive practices. As appropriate, USDA will make reports or refer potential violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act to the Justice Department to better enable its Antitrust Division to pursue competition-related cases and to allow the agencies to collaborate on issues of mutual interest. Additionally, The Justice Department and USDA will work together to identify and highlight areas where Congress can help modernize these toolkits.
“The Justice Department takes very seriously the responsibility we share with our partners across the federal government to protect consumers, safeguard competition, and ensure economic opportunity and fairness for all,” said Garland. “Over the past ten months, we have stepped up our efforts to ensure competition and counter anticompetitive practices across sectors – from airlines to insurance brokers to book publishers. And we will continue to vigorously enforce our antitrust laws, no matter the industry, no matter the company, and no matter the individual.”