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Montana Ag Network: executive order addresses competition in agriculture

Montana Ag Network
Posted at 2:22 PM, Jul 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-14 16:22:11-04

BILLINGS — President Joe Biden has signed an executive order promoting competition and designed to jump-start the U.S. economy by lowering prices, increasing wages, and taking another step toward an economy the White House says works for everyone.

“The heart of American capitalism is a simple idea: open and fair competition. That means that if your companies want to win your business, they have to go out and they have to up their game; better prices and services; new ideas and products,” said President Biden.

“That competition keeps the economy moving and keeps it growing. Fair competition is why capitalism has been the world’s greatest force for prosperity and growth.”

Farm groups such as the National Farmers Union are praising the executive order, calling it long overdue for addressing important issues like meatpacker concentration and “Right to Repair” farm equipment.

“It's across the board,” said Montana Farmers Union president Walter Schweitzer. “We have consolidated all of our industries and they've done it supposedly in the name of efficiency. But it really has come at the expense of resiliency. And just the fact that President Biden has recognized the problem is huge.”

Other initiatives important to agriculture included in the order include USDA investing $500 million from the American Rescue Plan to support new competitive entrants in meat and poultry processing and directing USDA to consider new rules to define when meat can bear "Product of the USA labels," so that consumers have access to accurate and transparent information

Key parts of the order addressing agriculture include:

  • The Secretary of Agriculture shall:
  • (i) to address the unfair treatment of farmers and improve conditions of competition in the markets for their products, consider initiating a rulemaking or rulemakings under the Packers and Stockyards Act to strengthen the Department of Agriculture’s regulations concerning unfair, unjustly discriminatory, or deceptive practices and undue or unreasonable preferences, advantages, prejudices, or disadvantages, with the purpose of furthering the vigorous implementation of the law established by the Congress in 1921 and fortified by amendments. In such rulemaking or rulemakings, the Secretary of Agriculture shall consider, among other things:
    • (A) providing clear rules that identify recurrent practices in the livestock, meat, and poultry industries that are unfair, unjustly discriminatory, or deceptive and therefore violate the Packers and Stockyards Act;
    • (B) reinforcing the long-standing Department of Agriculture interpretation that it is unnecessary under the Packers and Stockyards Act to demonstrate industry-wide harm to establish a violation of the Act and that the “unfair, unjustly discriminatory, or deceptive” treatment of one farmer, the giving to one farmer of an “undue or unreasonable preference or advantage,” or the subjection of one farmer to an “undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage in any respect” violates the Act;
    • (C) prohibiting unfair practices related to grower ranking systems — systems in which the poultry companies, contractors, or dealers exercise extraordinary control over numerous inputs that determine the amount farmers are paid and require farmers to assume the risk of factors outside their control, leaving them more economically vulnerable;
    • (D) updating the appropriate definitions or set of criteria, or application thereof, for undue or unreasonable preferences, advantages, prejudices, or disadvantages under the Packers and Stockyards Act; and
    • (E) adopting, to the greatest extent possible and as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, appropriate anti-retaliation protections, so that farmers may assert their rights without fear of retribution;
  • (ii) to ensure consumers have accurate, transparent labels that enable them to choose products made in the United States, consider initiating a rulemaking to define the conditions under which the labeling of meat products can bear voluntary statements indicating that the product is of United States origin, such as “Product of USA”;
  • (iii) to ensure that farmers have greater opportunities to access markets and receive a fair return for their products, not later than 180 days after the date of this order, submit a report to the Chair of the White House Competition Council, with a plan to promote competition in the agricultural industries and to support value-added agriculture and alternative food distribution systems through such means as:
    • (A) the creation or expansion of useful information for farmers, such as model contracts, to lower transaction costs and help farmers negotiate fair deals;
    • (B) measures to encourage improvements in transparency and standards so that consumers may choose to purchase products that support fair treatment of farmers and agricultural workers and sustainable agricultural practices;
    • (C) measures to enhance price discovery, increase transparency, and improve the functioning of the cattle and other livestock markets;
    • (D) enhanced tools, including any new legislative authorities needed, to protect whistleblowers, monitor agricultural markets, and enforce relevant laws;
    • (E) any investments or other support that could bolster competition within highly concentrated agricultural markets; and
    • (F) any other means that the Secretary of Agriculture deems appropriate;
  • (iv) to improve farmers’ and smaller food processors’ access to retail markets, not later than 300 days after the date of this order, in consultation with the Chair of the FTC, submit a report to the Chair of the White House Competition Council, on the effect of retail concentration and retailers’ practices on the conditions of competition in the food industries, including any practices that may violate the Federal Trade Commission Act, the Robinson-Patman Act (Public Law 74-692, 49 Stat. 1526, 15 U.S.C. 13 et seq.), or other relevant laws, and on grants, loans, and other support that may enhance access to retail markets by local and regional food enterprises;

Click here to read the complete order.