Lyons, Nebraska – The Center for Rural Affairs called a livestock market competition bill introduced in the U.S. Senate today a major first step toward instilling more competition in livestock markets and protecting farmers and ranchers from price discrimination, market manipulation and anti-competitive behavior by meatpackers.
Earlier today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Senator Craig Thomas (R-WY) introduced legislation to improve competition in livestock markets and fairness in the production and sale of agricultural commodities. The “Competitive and Fair Agricultural Markets Act of 2006,” proposes a series of changes in response to the failure by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prevent unfair, manipulative and anti-competitive behavior prohibited under the Packers and Stockyards Act. This bill will also strengthen the ability of producers to succeed in cases involving unfair and manipulative practices by packers and provide needed protections for producers that use contracts.
“USDA Packers and Stockyards Administration has become anything but an enforcer of competition in livestock markets – robbing farmers and ranchers of the best assurance they have that livestock markets will be fair and competitive,” said John Crabtree, Center for Rural Affairs. “This bill addresses the most onerous problems with USDA’s lack of competition policy enforcement by defining the rules of livestock market competition and providing clear direction for USDA’s enforcement,” added Crabtree.
Last month, an audit of the Packers and Stockyards Administration revealed that they have utterly failed to enforce the very law that gives the agency a reason to exist. Senior officials in the Packers and Stockyards Administration blocked investigations from being referred to USDA lawyers or the Justice Department and agency employees were instructed to create the appearance of enforcement activity by recording everything from routine correspondence and review of public data as “investigations.” Over 1,800 so-called “investigations” were documented between 1999 and 2005, but according to the Inspector General’s audit, over 1,700 of those so-called investigations could not be traced to a specific complaint, producer, packer or other details that a true investigation would contain.
“The Packers and Stockyards Administration perpetrated a lie, and disillusioned farmers and ranchers in the process. USDA has proven, again, that they cannot be trusted to use the considerable authority vested in the Packers and Stockyards Act to breathe competition back into American livestock markets,” said Crabtree.
“USDA will claim that new leadership at Packers and Stockyards will fix the problem. But it will not, and farmers, ranchers and rural communities will continue to pay the price. That is why Congress must act to define the rules of livestock market competition, provide clear direction for USDA’s enforcement and prepare for a larger debate over a comprehensive competition title in the 2007 farm bill. This bill is a major first step in that process,” added Crabtree.
“We’ve witnessed a widespread failure by USDA in enforcing existing producer protections. We need to get rid of extra layers of bureaucracy and allow competition issues to be in the forefront, rather than swept under the rug as they currently are,” said Senator Harkin.
For more information on competition issues see – http://www.cfra.org/pdf/CommStaffConcentrationPaper.pdf
Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.
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