WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, January 13, 2020, the Federal Register will publish a proposed rule by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). This rule aims to specify criteria the Secretary of Agriculture would consider when determining whether an undue or unreasonable preference or advantage has occurred in violation of the Packers and Stockyards Act. Upon its initial review of the proposed rule, Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) issued the following assessment:
USDA fails to own up to its longstanding position that the Packers and Stockyards Act is both an antitrust law and a producer protection law. Unlike the previous iteration of this rule, it fails to set out which actions are unfair, unjustly discriminatory, or deceptive by meat packers and processors. USDA leaves farmers, ranchers, and poultry contract growers under the threat of retaliation for speaking out against any wrong doing of the packer or processor. A particularly gross omission in this proposed rule is restoration of the right of an individual producer to bring a claim without proving competitive harm to the entire sector.
USDA is obviously attempting to minimally meet the 2008 Farm Bill Congressional mandate with this rulemaking. OCM will be further reviewing the rule and its impact alongside our stakeholders as we continue to fight for the rights of America’s farmers and ranchers.
OCM had applauded the December 2016 version of this proposed rule, which would have allowed farmers to hold agribusinesses accountable for practices like retaliation, bad faith cancellation of contracts, or collusion efforts among packers to force individuals out of the market, while relieving farmers and ranchers from the requirement to demonstrate competitive injury. The 2016 proposed rule, along with two others, had been the product of a nearly 10-year rulemaking process.