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New US rules to protect animal farmers expected soon

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New US rules to protect animal farmers expected soon

OMAHA, Neb. — The Biden administration plans to issue a new rule to protect farmers’ rights who raise cows, chickens, and hogs against the country’s largest meat processors to encourage more competition in the agriculture sector.

The new rule that will make it easier for farmers to sue companies they contract with over unfair, discriminatory, or deceptive practices isis one of several steps the White House plans to announce in the next few days. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is also expected to tighten the definition of what it means for meat to be labeled a “Product of USA” to exclude when animals are raised in other countries and processed in the United States.

Some farmer advocacy groups have pressed for these changes for several years, but Congress and the meat processing industry have resisted change. A USDA official familiar with the White House’s plan said an executive order would be announced this week to clear the way for the new rules.

The regulation will make it easier for farmers to bring complaints under the Packers and Stockyards Act, similar to one the Trump administration killed four years ago. That rule was first proposed in 2010.

animal farmers

Several court rulings have interpreted federal law as saying that a farmer must prove a company’s actions harm competition in the entire industry before a lawsuit can proceed. The new rule would ease that high burden of proof.

Chicken and pork producers, for example, often must enter long-term contracts with companies such as Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride that farmers say lock them into deals that fix their compensation at unprofitably low levels and force them deep into debt.

Previously, major meat companies have defended the system as fair; it calls for farmers to provide barns and labor to raise chickens while the companies provide chicks, feed, and expertise. The North American Meat Institute, representing meat processors, said the proposed rule would likely encourage “costly, specious lawsuits.”

But Bill Bullard, who leads a trade group representing farmers and ranchers, said the change should better protect individuals in their dealings with the four major meat companies, which control roughly 70% of U.S. beef production.

“It will help to reform the marketplace and balance the tremendous disparity in power between multinational meatpackers and independent family-owned cattle farms and ranches,” said Bullard, CEO of the R-CALF USA trade group.

The USDA also plans to review the definition of what it means for meat to be labeled a “Product of USA.” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said he wants that label to reflect what consumers expect when they read it accurately. Companies can use that label whenever meat is processed in the United States, even if the animals were born and raised elsewhere. USDA officials say that most grass-fed beef labeled as made in the U.S. comes from imported cattle.

Bullard said changing the label rules will help, but even if meat producers can’t use the “Product of USA” label, they won’t be required to label the beef as foreign. He said that consumers might think the meat they buy is produced domestically, even if imported because it carries a USDA inspection stamp when processed in the United States.

The Agriculture Department also plans to invest in new local and regional markets, so farmers will have more options for selling the animals and crops they raise. Critics have said the primary meat processing companies dominate the cattle, hogs, and chickens, making it harder for small farmers to get a fair price.

This week’s expected executive order follows an announcement this spring that the USDA plans to strengthen protections for farmers under the law and encourage more competition in livestock markets.

A source familiar with the executive order said it would also encourage the Federal Trade Commission to limit the ability of agricultural equipment manufacturers to force farmers to have their equipment repaired at dealers instead of using independent repair shops or doing repairs themselves. Some tractor makers use proprietary tools and software to force farmers to go to dealers for repairs.

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