USDA Rule Clarifies Unfair Practices; Mixed Response From Ag Groups

The USDA announced new action to support a fairer, more competitive, and more resilient meat and poultry supply chain. USDA’s “Fair and Competitive Livestock and Poultry Markets” proposed rule would tackle longstanding challenges around interpretations of unfairness and competitive injury for the livestock, meat, and poultry sectors.

The rule is designed to support farmers and growers and reduce food costs for consumers. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement during an event at the Center for American Progress showcasing the push to create more affordable and competitive agricultural markets. The event highlighted USDA’s wide-ranging progress to enhance the Department’s ability to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act, including previous rulemaking and an enforcement partnership with the Department of Justice.

“The proposed rule stands for clear and transparent standards so that markets function fairly and competitively for consumers and producers alike,” Vilsack says. “It’s designed to give farmers a fairer shake.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane, in  a statement after USDA released this latest rule, said “USDA’s newly proposed rule is a direct attack on cattle producer profitability. By creating criteria that effectively deems any innovation or differentiation in the marketplace improper, USDA is sending a clear message that cattle producers should not derive any benefit from the free market but instead be paid one low price regardless of quality, all in the name of so-called fairness.”

Members of the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) support this action by the USDA. “The USDA’s announcement is a significant victory for independent farmers and ranchers,” said Liza Cuthbert-Millet, a rancher in Weston County, Wyoming, and a board member of Powder River Basin Resource Council. “These rules will level the playing field and ensure that hardworking producers have a fair shot at justice when they’ve been wronged.”

WORC says in a news release that these “new rules address a barrier to justice that has plagued the independent ranchers for years. Previously, farmers and ranchers were required to provide proof that any individual violation of the P&S Act by meatpacking corporations resulted in “market-wide harm to competition”, making it nearly impossible to hold these companies accountable for their actions.”

“No one wants to go to court. But when farmers and ranchers are wronged, they deserve a justice system that doesn’t require them to jump through impossible hoops to be heard,” added Corey Hart, a rancher in Well County, North Dakota, and member of Dakota Resource Council. “These rules will provide the necessary clarity and support to ensure that our producers are treated fairly and that anti-competitive behavior is stamped out before it can cause further harm.”