By John Crabtree
Meatpackers have given huge volume-based premiums to the largest hog and cattle producers for decades, helping them drive smaller, family farm and ranch livestock producers out of business. USDA has been lackluster in holding packers accountable for this price discrimination and other "sweetheart deals" they provide to the largest livestock producers, despite such treatment being a clear violation of the Packers and Stockyards Act.
That is precisely why the Center for Rural Affairs worked so diligently during the last farm bill debate to secure the provision compelling the Secretary of Agriculture to define what constitutes an "unreasonable preference." There wasn't much attention to that provision back then, and the Center for Rural Affairs didn't have many allies on the issue, but we prevailed.
Unofficial USDA public comments indicate that the draft rule will be released in mid-June. The USDA - Justice Department antitrust workshops have a lot more people paying attention now. And once USDA publishes their new rule, the packers will complain a lot, if it's any good. Stay tuned at www.cfra.org/competition to find out more.
Overseeing America's livestock markets is the most thankless of jobs. However, family farmers and ranchers have learned that the absence of leadership in this role leaves governance to those who pursue power for their own narrow ends over the common good.
Progress comes when people of hope and vision put good ideas on the table of governance. I hope and expect that Secretary Vilsack will pick up this good idea and carry it forward.
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