WASHINGTON — Think you see something that's not fair in the world of livestock marketing and processing?
You will soon have a place to file that complaint anonymously, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice.
As part of an announcement on a series of steps to ensure fair competition in the livestock industry, the two federal agencies are working together to launch an online complain portal within the next 30 days.
On Monday, Jan. 3, Attorney General Merrick Garland said those efforts "will include the launch of a centralized, accessible portal — a one-stop shop — to report complaints of potential violations of our competition laws, including the Sherman and the Clayton Acts as well as the Packers and Stockyards Act."
The two agencies say they are trying to better collaborate addressing those kinds of complaints and protect whistleblowers.
"Where complaints relate to antitrust violations, whistleblowers will be protected in many cases by the new employee and contractor anti-retaliation protections, which Congress passed in 2020," Garland said in comments posted on the Department of Justice website.
- Jump-starting independent meat processing projects.
- Up to $275 million to lenders to support processors.
- $100 million in workforce training for independent processors.
- Enhanced price reporting in livestock markets.
Clarifying "Product of USA" meat labels, which U.S. ranchers have said unfairly advantaged companies that raise cattle abroad and only slaughter in the United States.
"Antitrust and market regulatory enforcement is essential to enabling the competition necessary to transform our concentrated supply chains in favor of diversified, resilient food systems," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release.
Some farm groups voiced support for the plan.
"The joint initiative between USDA and the Department of Justice to create an online portal to report competition law violations, and efforts to strengthen the Packers & Stockyards Act, will go a long way to ensuring fairness in the industry," the American Farm Bureau Federation said in the news release.
“Congress passed the Packers and Stockyards Act in 1921 when the ‘Big Five’ controlled the meat and poultry processing sector,” Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish said in a news release. “I would argue the situation is more critical now, with two of the four companies who control most of the beef processing being foreign owned. Their profits go overseas; they don’t come back to family farmers and local communities."
But Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute, said the Biden administration ignoring the top challenge to the meat industry: labor shortages.
"This tired approach is not surprising because they have refused to engage with the packing and processing sector they attack, going so far as to hold a roundtable on meat packing without a single beef or pork packer present," Potts said in a news release.