The U.S. Agriculture Department proposed changes to protect farmers from retaliation when they speak out against meat processors for practices including price-fixing and discrimination, the agency said.
The Packers and Stockyards Act, which was enacted in 1921, sought to “protect members of the livestock, meat, and poultry industries from unfair, deceptive, unjustly discriminatory and monopolistic practices.”
The proposed rule introduced last week would amend this law by protecting “market vulnerable individuals” who are at risk of being targeted by discriminatory practices in the industry due to race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. The proposal also prohibits “retaliatory” and “unlawfully deceptive” practices, and proposes record-keeping requirements to support the enforcement of the policies.
According to the agency, the proposed rule is intended to level the playing field by helping smaller producers who lack the needed land or finances to meet contractual requirements.
“Preventing discrimination against producer cooperatives will provide another avenue for producers who otherwise might not have been able to participate in the market,” the agency said in the proposed rule.
Last week, USDA also announced a $15 million investment in ramping up enforcement of antitrust laws on a state-level by “challenging” state attorneys general to work with the agency on anti-competitive food industry practices.
These are the latest actions from the Biden administration targeting concentration in the meat and poultry sector. Since early 2021, the federal government gave $1 billion to smaller producers to spur competition, charged executives of major meat processors with what they say are price fixing schemes, and investigated the merger of poultry giant Wayne-Sanderson Farms before it closed in July.