Vilsack announces P&S rule, ag competition challenge

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday that the Agricultural Marketing Service will soon publish in the Federal Register proposed “Inclusive Competition and Market Integrity Rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act to protect farmers and ranchers from abuse.”

Vilsack also announced a new $15 million Agricultural Competition Challenge to ramp up collaboration with the state attorneys general on enforcement of the competition laws, such as the laws against price-fixing.

Vilsack said in a news release that he planned to announce the efforts at a meeting Monday of the White House Competition Council, of which he is a member.

“Highly concentrated local markets in livestock and poultry have increasingly left farmers, ranchers, growers and producers vulnerable to a range of practices that unjustly exclude them from economic opportunities and undermine a transparent, competitive, and open market — which harms producers’ ability to deliver the quality, affordable food working families depend upon,” Vilsack said.

“USDA is focused on building new, fairer, and more resilient markets, protecting producers, and reducing food costs, and we are proving again today that we will use all tools at our disposal to do so.”

USDA said the rule proposed rule:

▪ Prohibits certain prejudices and disadvantages against covered producers. Specifically, the proposed rule seeks to protect “market vulnerable individuals” who are those at heightened risk of adverse, exclusionary treatment in the marketplace, which may include on the basis of their race, gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation.

▪ Prohibits retaliatory practices that interfere with lawful communications, assertion of rights, and associational participation, among other protected activities.

▪ Identifies unlawfully deceptive practices that violate the P&S Act with respect to contract formation, contract performance, contract termination and contract refusal.

▪ Proposes recordkeeping requirements to support evaluation of regulated entity compliance, including the ability to inspect relevant records, such as policies and procedures, staff training and producer information materials, data and testing, board of directors’ oversight materials, and other relevant materials.

The Agricultural Competition Challenge will use up to $15 million in funds from the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) to establish renewable cooperative agreements and memorandums of understanding with state attorneys general to assist the AGs in tackling “anticompetitive practices in the agricultural sector and related industries that are contributing to heightened inflationary pressures, lack of choices for consumers and producers, and conflicts of interest and anticompetitive barriers across the food and agriculture supply chains,” USDA said.

“Specifically, this initiative will improve state AG capacity to conduct on-the-ground investigations of competition issues, enhance coordination between Federal and state agriculture and competition enforcement authorities, create new and more independent research programs, and ultimately result in more rigorous enforcement of the competition laws,” USDA said.

USDA is working directly with state AG offices to solicit applications and requests for funding under this initiative and looks forward to these partnerships.

The White House also released a readout of the meeting that noted “USDA will soon announce the distribution of millions in funding to help expand and diversify meat and poultry processing capacity, helping give consumers more and cheaper options.”

–The Hagstrom Report

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