Biden Promises A Fairer Food System
Allison Johnson and David Wallinga, MD, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
July 17, 2021
* with Tori Oto, Summer Legal Fellow
Over decades, lax antitrust enforcement has exacerbated consolidation, which has left control of the vast majority of our food system in the hands of very few, increasingly powerful companies. The environment, local economies, and public health all suffer as a result.
Two very recent actions signal that the tides may be turning. Finally, our nation's leaders seem ready to deliver meaningful protections for small- and mid-sized- farmers, farmers of color, and food system workers―especially those in the meat and poultry sectors.
First, President Biden issued a sweeping Executive Order (EO) to promote competition throughout the U.S. economy. Among the issues tackled, the EO directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to consider new rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA) to promote fair competition in the meat sector and make it “easier for farmers to bring and win claims.” A meaningful PSA update could help U.S. poultry and livestock producers shift away from harmful concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and towards smaller-scale, more diversified and pasture-based modes of farming. It also directs the USDA to explore unfair competition in other parts of the food system that squeezes farmers and farm workers alike, namely consolidation in the seed and input (pesticide, fertilizer) industries, as well as in the retail sector.
Senator Cory Booker and Representative Rho Khanna have also reintroduced the Farm System Reform Act, which would strengthen pro-competition measures in the PSA. It includes several other measures as well that support a transition away from harmful, industrial animal agriculture, such as a moratorium on new CAFOs as well as resources for CAFO operators who want to transition to new professions.
These measures―and more―are urgently needed, as meatpacking companies are decreasing in number and increasing in size: the four largest meatpackers control more than 80% of the U.S. beef market, the top four pork processors control two-thirds of pork production, and the four largest poultry companies control more than half of poultry processing.
The COVID-19 crisis highlighted how consolidation has added to the vulnerability of our food system, particularly in the meat sector...
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