Today, the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) submitted public comments on a rule that the Secretary of Agriculture would use to determine whether or not a corporate practice would hinder fair competition in agriculture and livestock markets. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) proposed rule regarding enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA) seeks to clarify how the PSA is interpreted and enforced.
OCM disagrees with the proposed rule’s inadequate criteria, and demands the reimplementation of protections for producers that were included in the 2016 version, particularly those regarding the USDA’s own interpretation of competitive harm. OCM urges AMS to heed the purpose and intent of the Packers and Stockyards Act and close loopholes in the law that have allowed anti-competitive practices to become customary in the industry.
In its comments, OCM called for AMS to restore the main intent of the PSA, which is to protect agricultural producers from undue harm. OCM stressed the importance of removing the requirement that producers must show industrywide competitive harm when seeking action on reported violations to the PSA. “Nowhere in past enforcement of the PSA is a failure to protect producers more evident than in the repeated requirement for a producer to prove industrywide competitive harm,” the group’s comments state, adding further that, “requiring a producer to prove competitive harm, in itself, is a form of competitive harm.”
“This proposed rule is yet another reason why Secretary Sonny Perdue should be fired,” stated Ben Gotschall, Policy and Research Director for OCM. “It does virtually nothing to protect producers from deceptive and unfair practices that are currently widespread in the industry,” said Gotschall. “By renaming ‘customary practices’ in the industry as ‘reasonable business decisions,’ AMS would essentially give bad actors a free pass to continue breaking the law, just because they’ve grown accustomed to doing so,” Gotschall said.
OCM demanded reinstating language from the 2016 version of the rule outlining specific unfair practices, calling for protections for producers from retaliation by meatpacking companies. “By not specifically addressing retaliatory action in this version of the rules, AMS is clearly abandoning producers to be at the mercy of unfair and vindictive treatment at the hands of the packers, contractors, and dealers,” the group argued.
“The unfair and unlawful actions of the meatpacking industry have gone on long enough, and the U.S. has seen far too many farmers and ranchers go out of business as a result,” said Gotschall. “AMS needs to stop these harmful actions and protect America’s farmers and ranchers by enacting clear guidelines and enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act.”
The comment period on the Packers and Stockyards Act proposed rule is open until Friday, March 13, and OCM encourages all concerned individuals and organizations to submit their comments by the deadline.
Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) is a membership-based research and advocacy organization working for transparent, fair and truly competitive agricultural and food markets.