2023 was a banner year for our fight against corporate monopoly power in the food system. Together with our supporters and allies, we demonstrated that we are a force to be reckoned with — and the fruits of our labor are paying off as the year draws to a close.
We kicked off 2023 with the historic Food Not Feed Summit, where a powerful and diverse coalition gathered around a movement to shift federal farm programs toward food for people, not just feed grains for corporate-controlled livestock. And with USDA’s recently announced supports for farmers producing nutritious specialty crops, our collective efforts to rebuild a food system that benefits all are paying off.
At year’s end, we’re closer to leveling the playing field for America’s livestock producers after USDA updated its requirement that the agency’s red meat purchases must come from animals born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. — and cracked down on misleading ‘antibiotic-free’ meat and poultry labeling that stunts the growth of our local and regional food systems.
We’re pleased to share our journey towards achieving this year’s wins, which are helping to tip the scales of power back into the hands of everyday people — not corporations.
What We Did
We worked alongside countless members of Congress, government agencies, and coalitions to develop strategies to fight back against corporate monopoly power. Here’s how we achieved success in 2023:
RESEARCH AND REPORTS
Research is the foundation of our work to create a fairer food system. Following our Food Not Feed Summit, we published research showing that we could balance our agricultural trade deficit by converting less than 0.5 percent of current farm acreage to the production of produce, legumes, and whole grains. Our political partner, Farm Action Fund, released policy recommendations to support this shift.
In July, we partnered with Open Markets Institute to hold the Biden administration accountable by issuing a report card that assessed federal agencies’ progress towards completing the directives in the executive order on competition.
We compiled policy recommendations for a Fair Farm Bill in 2023 to create a fairer food system and created fact sheets illustrating how the farm bill could improve Americans’ health, competition in the U.S. economy, national security, and conservation efforts.
Over the past year, Farm Action developed public comments to inform federal agencies in their rulemaking processes. We weighed in on enforcing discrimination and retaliation protections under the Packers and Stockyards Act, stopping imported meat from being mislabeled as a “Product of U.S.A.,” and FTC and DOJ’s draft merger guidelines and pre-merger form changes to stop anticompetitive mergers.
LETTERS TO CONGRESS AND FEDERAL AGENCIES
We stood up for farmers and consumers by submitting letters to Congress and our federal agencies, holding them accountable and showing them the facts. Last winter, we called for the FTC to investigate high egg prices as the dominant egg supplier reaped record profits. We wrote a letter to Congress and held a press conference alongside allied farm groups, urging Congress to reject proposals that would funnel more taxpayer dollars to Big Ag corporations through an increase in reference prices. We also called out USDA’s failure to release federally mandated dairy checkoff reports — which resulted in bipartisan members of Congress following suit with their own letter — and led 62 groups in sending a letter to President Biden expressing concern about the pace of USDA’s Packers and Stockyards Act rulemakings.
MEETINGS WITH POLICY MAKERS
Farm Action had frequent meetings with the White House’s National Economic Council and Domestic Policy Council, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, and the United States Department of Agriculture at their request to brief them on food and farm competition issues — including calling for checkoff reform at the White House Convening on Agriculture Competition and participating in FTC open commission meetings.
20 BILLS FILED IN CONGRESS
Farm Action worked with members of Congress to develop our policy recommendations into 20 different pieces of legislation, and our staff were quoted or mentioned in the Congressional offices’ respective press releases:
- Enabling Farmers to Benefit from Processing Nutrition Programs Act
- Whole Farm Revenue Protection Program Improvement Act
- Farmland for Farmers Act
- Fairness for Small-Scale Farmers & Ranchers Act
- Agricultural Worker Justice Act
- Farm Program Integrity Act
- Country of Origin Labeling Enforcement Act
- Family Farmer and Rancher Tax Fairness Act
- Strengthening Local Meat Economies Act
- AFFIRM Act
We doubled the subscribers to our bi-weekly newsletter, the Farm Action News Roundup, keeping advocates across the country informed and providing opportunities to get involved in the movement to create a fairer food system. Join the movement today by signing up for our newsletter!
Our team led and participated in events to bring our research and policy recommendations to policy makers, reporters, and advocates. We kicked the year off with our historic Food Not Feed Summit, where we gathered a diverse coalition of advocates with a shared goal to shift federal farm supports toward fiber-rich foods and regeneratively raised livestock and poultry in the farm bill. We followed up this work with our Fair Farm Bill Webinar Series, in addition to developing, organizing, and participating in the first-ever Congressional Progressive Staff Association policy event focused on the farm bill.
We brought attention to what the administration must accomplish in its remaining time in office to deliver on the promises of President Biden’s executive order with our ‘Making the Grade?’ event, where we unveiled our report card. We also hosted a research briefing on our research report about balancing the agricultural trade deficit by shifting .5% of our agricultural production from feed grains to higher value food crops.
14 COALITIONS WORKING TOGETHER
Our team at Farm Action and Farm Action Fund leads or co-leads four coalitions to create a fairer farm bill: a coalition to Pass the OFF Act to reform checkoff programs; defeat the EATS Act to protect states’ rights; the Food, Not Feed coalition; and the Pro-Competition Farm Bill coalition. As a result of these strong partnerships, more than 80 organizations have downloaded our Fair Farm Bill Advocacy Toolkit.
We participated in 10 additional coalitions led by our allies, including Rural Coalition, which supports rural communities and socially disadvantaged farmers; a broad, ideologically diverse group of advocates including the Environmental Working Group, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and Taxpayers for Common Sense to fix our broken farm safety net; R-CALF USA’s coalition to reinstate Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (MCOOL) for beef products; and Progress Michigan’s coalition for a fair farm bill.
TOP MEDIA COVERAGE
Our work captured the attention of reporters across the country in 2023. Out of more than 2,500 media stories, here are the top five. Check out more of our top stories of the year in our blog.
Our original videos racked up hundreds of thousands of views across social media. Check out the five our supporters liked best:
We researched and published 20 blogs this year. Our deep-dive Root of the Issue blogs and quick-take News to Chew on blogs reached thousands of readers, enabling them to stay informed and challenge monopoly power in their own communities.
What We Won
We spoke up; they listened. Our work in 2023 brought about critical changes across government agencies that are laying the foundation for a fairer food system for all.
LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD
Our advocacy work drove federal regulators and members of Congress to rethink our current system, pushing them to make changes that restore competition in our economy.
DOJ and FTC’s new merger guidelines will help restore competition in the economy to the benefit of farmers, consumers, and small businesses; while DOJ’s lawsuit and proposed consent decree to prohibit Koch Foods from imposing termination penalties for its chicken grower contracts removes an anticompetitive tool used by abusive meatpacking corporations.
We’re encouraged by the flurry of activity at USDA, including its contract poultry grower transparency rule, its crackdown on misleading ‘antibiotics-free’ labeling, and its updated requirement that the agency’s red meat purchases must come from animals born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S.
We’re also pleased that USDA released the 2020 Dairy Checkoff Report, launched a new enforcement effort with state attorneys general to address anticompetitive and anti-consumer practices in food and agricultural markets, established a Chief Competition Officer, opened the Cattle Contracts Library Pilot Program, and took steps to provide financial assistance to borrowers who have faced discrimination.
Many states have been paving the way for large-scale food system change. In what we hope is just the beginning of a nationwide movement, Colorado’s governor signed the nation’s first agricultural right to repair bill into law, ensuring farmers have the information they need to repair their equipment as they see fit. And in a huge win for independent hog farmers the U.S. Supreme Court upheld California’s Proposition 12, which outlawed the sale of pork produced with the use of gestation crates. The final Supreme Court opinion cited an amicus brief filed in August 2022 by Farm Action and other farm organizations, which stated that Proposition 12 allows independent producers to compete with monopoly meatpacking corporations.
REBUILDING A FOOD SYSTEM THAT BENEFITS ALL
USDA has made critical investments that will help rebuild a fairer food system. The agency announced measures to train beginning farmers and ranchers and support small and medium-scale producers and those growing specialty crops, such as new investments in specialty crop production and the GusNIP program. USDA also announced a tool to assist small businesses and individuals in identifying procurement opportunities and announced 12 regional food business centers to provide technical assistance and help coordinate farmers, ranchers, and other food businesses to access new markets and navigate resources.
The agency’s investments to support 1890 Land-grant Universities, new Urban Service Centers, and the Local and Regional Healthy Food Financing Partnerships Initiative will help improve access to healthy foods in urban and rural underserved communities. Its investment in projects to increase land, capital, and market access for underserved producers will increase farm ownership opportunities, improve results for those with heirs’ property, and increase access to markets and capital that affect the ability to access land, ensuring a more fair and just food system.
USDA has also made investments to support more resilient supply chains, including awards to expand domestic fertilizer production and establishing the Farmer Seed Liaison initiative. Additional funding for the Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure Program will fund projects designed to invest in processing and distribution capacity. The agency also announced new investments to support independent meat processors, creating opportunities for small businesses in rural communities.
While we’re thrilled with our progress in 2023, our fight for a fair food system must surge on in 2024 and beyond. Here’s what we’ve got our sights set on for the new year:
URGING CONGRESS TO PASS A FAIR FARM BILL
Our fight for a Fair Farm Bill continues: With the deadline extended to September 2024 for Congress to pass a new farm bill, we will keep up the fight for checkoff program reform, support for specialty crop growers, fair access to credit, crop insurance reform, to defeat the EATS Act, and more.
KEEPING THE PRESSURE ON FEDERAL AGENCIES
We’ll continue pushing to strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act, which is one of our best protections against meatpacking monopolies, and for the finalization of USDA’s proposed “Product of U.S.A.” rule which would ensure this voluntary label is only used on meat, poultry, and egg products derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the U.S.
We look forward to FTC’s changes to the Hart-Scott-Rodino Premerger Form to revitalize critical protections for the welfare of America’s farmers and workers, consumers, and small businesses, in addition to the agency’s next steps in its case against pesticide manufacturers Syngenta and Corteva. The finalization of FTC’s proposed rule to ban noncompete clauses would remove a key mechanism of exploitation and corporate control over U.S. workers.
We’ve got DOJ’s progress top-of-mind as we await the next steps in its civil case against Agri Stats for facilitating the exchange of anticompetitive information, which could put an end to dominant meatpackers’ decades-long price-fixing scheme. And with the finalization of DOJ and FTC’s new merger guidelines, we’ll continue pushing for the agencies to block the proposed merger between grocery giants Kroger and Albertsons to prevent further retail consolidation and protect farmers, workers, and consumers.
TAKING THE FIGHT TO THE STATES
We are ramping up our work with state-based organizations to pass critical policies like the Right to Repair across the country, banning corporate and foreign ownership of farmland to keep farmland in the hands of farmers, and passing expanded consumer protection policies.
Support Our Work
Our work is made possible by supporters like you. Please consider making a donation to help fund our fight for a fairer food system in 2024 and beyond.
Written and edited by: Jessica Cusworth, Angela Huffman, Dee Laninga, Christian Lovell, and Joe Maxwell