Updated July 9, 12:09 p.m.: President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Friday directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make rules to increase competition in the meat industry, according to a White House announcement.
The new rules are part of 72 initiatives to increase competition in the economy.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a press briefing July 6 the rules would be added to the Packers and Stockyards Act to “to boost farmers’ and ranchers’ earnings, fight back against abuses of power by giant agribusiness corporations, and give farmers the right to repair their own equipment how they like.”
The law was created in 1921 to protect ranchers and ensure fair competition in the meat market. According to a White House fact sheet, the agriculture department is being directed to make new rules “making it easier to bring and win claims, stopping chicken processors from exploiting and underpaying chicken farmers, and adopting anti-retaliation protections for farmers who speak out about bad practices.”
The order also encourages the Federal Trade Commission to limit equipment manufacturers from restricting the ability to repair farm equipment outside of the dealer, and directs USDA to consider new rules defining when meat can use “product of the USA” labels.
“Under current labeling rules, most grass-fed beef labeled ‘Product of USA’ is actually raised and slaughtered abroad, and then imported to the U.S. for processing,” Psaki said.
Advocates, farmers and ranchers agree the changes are needed.
Tim Gibbons, a spokesman for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, says these actions from the government are a long time coming.
“Competition in agriculture is necessary in order for family farmers to get paid not only cost of production but a living wage on top of that, and that is integral to the economies of our rural communities in our state and our country as a whole,” Gibbons says.
Scott Blubaugh, a rancher and the president of the Oklahoma Farmers’ Union, says four companies own a little over 80% of cattle processing, and many contracts with price offers are confidential.
“Those processors have so much power now in the marketplace that they control the prices,” Blubaugh says.
Darvin Bentlage, a farmer and rancher outside Joplin, Missouri, says the market isn’t fair. He notes the price to sell his beef has remained about the same since 2007 but that isn’t what shoppers see at the store.
“But you go to the grocery store, and good gosh, the price at the grocery stores just outrageous. You know, and the packers are reaping all the profit on that,” Bentlage says.