Today the USDA announced a series of measures taken to improve competition in agriculture, including some efforts toward completing the Department’s directives from President Biden’s executive order on competition.
In response, Farm Action President Angela Huffman issued the following statement:
“Today’s actions are steps in the right direction, but on the whole, the USDA has not yet made it over the finish line on behalf of America’s farmers and ranchers. With time running out to complete the USDA’s competition directives, the Department must act much more aggressively to rein in monopoly power in the food system.
“The Final Rule on Transparency in Poultry Grower Contracting and Tournaments exemplifies this point. Providing contract growers with additional information about flock sizes and how much they can expect to make is helpful. However, the tournament system is still exploitative, merely offering farmers a take-it-or-leave-it deal. This rule simply shows farmers the terms of their exploitation. The USDA should follow DOJ’s lead and ban the abusive tournament system outright.
“We applaud today’s Competition and Innovation in Seeds announcement, and hope other measures can progress with such swiftness.
“Having urged the USDA for years to strengthen its rules around ‘Product of USA’ labeling and domestic procurement, we are encouraged by the Updated Domestic Origin Requirements for USDA Purchases of Meat Products, which clarifies that meat products must be from animals that are born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. to meet the domestic origin requirements for purposes of USDA purchasing. It will have the most impact in the beef sector in which the dominant corporations do not differentiate their imported cattle from domestic, making them ineligible to meet the criteria. This will give American ranchers and independent domestic beef processors a window of advantage when the USDA issues bids for beef. To strengthen the impact of its domestic procurement, the USDA must maximize efforts like the Procurement Forecast tool, which assists independent producers in identifying potential opportunities for selling their products and services to USDA, and finalize its ‘Product of USA’ rule.
“Establishing a Chief Competition Officer at USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is a step toward elevating competition issues in the Department. However, AMS’s mission is not competition, it is marketing, and this change does nothing to lift the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration(GIPSA) up from where it was relegated by the previous administration, deep in the bowels of AMS. Only restoring GIPSA to an undersecretary level in the USDA will give our farmers and ranchers adequate protection against the abuses of the meatpacking monopoly.
“Our advice to the USDA is this: If the Department sincerely wishes to deliver a victory for farmers and ranchers, they must finalize the remaining three new rules to strengthen the P&S Act. Farmers must be given back their right to sue meatpacking corporations, and the USDA must end the abusive poultry tournament system.
“To protect future rules from being overturned by Congress, USDA needs to finalize them prior to the deadline set by the Congressional Review Act, which could come as early as May 22nd, 2024. Rules that have not been finalized could be overturned by the next administration or by Congress.
“This is of course the exact same travesty against competition that happened during the Obama administration on Secretary Vilsack’s watch, and the Biden administration should take heed: In the absence of swift action, history could easily repeat itself.”
Media Contact: Dee Laninga, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-450-0094