Today, President Biden convened a roundtable with farmers, ranchers, an independent poultry processor, and members of his Cabinet to discuss the need for greater competition in beef, pork and poultry processing and to announce the Administration’s Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain. The President, Secretary Vilsack, and Attorney General Garland explained the steps the Administration is taking to increase processing options for farmers and ranchers, create fairer and more competitive markets, bring down prices for consumers, and ensure farmers and ranchers get a fair price for their product.
The President highlighted the strong economy going into 2022 and explained that under his July Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, the Administration has been focused on tackling the lack of competition in agricultural markets. He explained that just a small handful of companies control the majority of the markets for beef, pork, and poultry, enabling them to squeeze farmers and ranchers while also raising prices on consumers. He also thanked bipartisan members of Congress working together on legislation to increase transparency in the cattle market.
Secretary Vilsack provided details on the Administration’s $1 billion investment of American Rescue Plan Funds to finance and support independent processing projects that will give farmers and ranchers more and better options. He further described the Department of Agriculture’s commitment to work in concert with the Department of Justice and other enforcement agencies, including new rulemakings under the Packers and Stockyards Act, and new rules to protect consumers from confusion over whether products labeled “Product of USA” are really made here at home.
Attorney General Garland spoke to the Justice Department’s commitment to increase competition across industries, including in the agricultural sector, and to enforce federal laws robustly and vigorously. He described a new joint initiative with the Department of Agriculture to better coordinate the two agencies’ federal enforcement efforts, including the launch of a new joint portal within 30 days where farmers and ranchers can lodge concerns about potential violations of the Clayton Act, Sherman Act, or Packers and Stockyards Act. Garland also described the Department’s commitment to supporting the strongest possible whistleblower protections.
Roundtable participants described how lack of competition in the meat and poultry supply chain impacts their businesses and their lives, and the challenges they face because a few large companies dominate the processing markets. The farmers and ranchers explained that they are often at the mercy of just a few buyers who determine the price they receive, and that even as these conglomerates raise prices at the grocery stores, they push down prices for farmers and ranchers, taking wealth out of rural communities and hurting consumers.
The independent poultry processor also described the dominant poultry production model in which large, integrated companies dictate the terms of restrictive contracts that leave growers with little control over their own operations and laden them with debt, and how support for alternative business models and market structures can serve consumers, workers, and producers.
Participants explained the start-up costs and challenges to independent processing and marketing, and how USDA funding to support the food supply chain will help independent processing operations start up, expand, and grow—while creating more competition and options for producers and consumers.
Attorney General Garland urged participants and farmers and ranchers to use the new joint web portal to confidentially share possible anticompetitive practices and actions they’ve faced. President Biden closed the meeting by reiterating the Administration’s whole-of-government-commitment to tackle competition issues across industries. He thanked participants for their hard work and feedback.