USDA Announces Effort to Beef Up Antitrust Law Enforcement Among Meatpacking Companies

In a press release on Friday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it is beginning work on additional rules to support the Packers and Stockyards Act (P&S Act) and better enforce antitrust laws in the meatpacking industry. 

The three proposed rules which were noted in an agenda released by the Office of Management and Budget are meant to bolster enforcement of the P&S Act to better protect farmers and ranchers of poultry, pigs, and cattle from anti competitive practices. 

The three rules include first a measure which will “provide greater clarity to strengthen enforcement,” second, a rule to initiate a new poultry grower tournament system rule replacing another proposal, and third, a rule clarifying that an action under some sections of the P&S Act does not need to demonstrate that the defendants harmed competition. 

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “the pandemic and other recent events have revealed how concentration can take a painful toll on independent farmers and ranchers, while exposing working family consumers to higher prices and uncertain output. … The Packers and Stockyards Act is a vital tool for protecting farmers and ranchers from excessive concentration and unfair, deceptive practices in the poultry, hog, and cattle markets, but the law is 100 years old and needs to take into account modern market dynamics. It should not be used as a safe harbor for bad actors. The process we’re beginning today will seek to strengthen the fairness and resiliency of livestock markets on behalf of farmers, ranchers and growers.”

The USDA said in the press release that modifying this act to better enforce it is one of multiple steps it is taking to build a better, more equitable and resilient food system which provides affordable, locally sourced food. The press release noted that these proposed rules support creating a resilient and fair market for farmers, ranchers, and producers. The release noted that the agenda which announced the proposed rules, known as the Unified Agenda, is also a part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to “build back better and more equitably.”

“In the last five years, stresses and disruptions caused by concentration in livestock markets have impacted not only producers, but consumers as well. As USDA works to strengthen the resiliency of supply chains, enforcement of the P&S Act will be critically important,” the press release said. 

In the recent years, there have been lawsuits filed against major players in the largest groups of the meatpacking industry, including chicken, pork, beef, turkey, and others, filed by classes of consumers, restaurants, grochers, and smaller farms and ranches.