Farmers and ranchers now can anonymously report potentially unfair and anticompetitive practices in the livestock and poultry sectors using an online tool USDA and Justice now have available. As part of the agencies’ enforcement partnership, the agencies are signing an interagency Memorandum of Understanding to further foster cooperation and communication between the agencies and effectively process the complaints received through the portal now available at farmerfairness.gov.
“This new online tool will help USDA and the Justice Department address anticompetitive actions and create livestock and poultry markets that are fairer to our nation’s producers,” says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “I encourage producers who are aware of potential violations of competition laws to submit information to the portal so we can take appropriate action to create more competitive markets in the agricultural sector.”
Complaints or tips will go through a preliminary review by USDA Packers and Stockyards Division staff and Department of Justice staff. If a complaint raises sufficient concern under the Packers and Stockyards Act or antitrust laws, it will be selected for further investigation by the appropriate agency. This action may lead to the opening of a formal investigation.
Users can submit information under their names or may submit anonymous complaints. If a complainant provides their personal information, DOJ or USDA staff will only contact them if additional information is needed. To submit an anonymous complaint, users can provide information about the potential violation without including their names or contact information.
“When we talk about protecting competition in the agricultural sector, we are talking about whether a farmer or a rancher will be paid a fair and competitive price for their goods and labor. When we talk about protecting consumers in this context, we are talking about whether food will be affordable for everyone in America,” says Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s launch of farmerfairness.gov – a one-stop shop to report potential violations of our competitions laws – will allow the Justice Department and USDA to collaborate early, enforce the law vigorously, and ensure economic opportunity and fairness for all.”
For any information provided, DOJ and USDA will follow their respective Privacy and Confidentiality Policies found at: DOJ Confidentiality and USDA Privacy. Packers and Stockyards regulations regarding confidentiality also apply: PSD Confidentiality. DOJ and USDA commit to supporting relevant whistleblower protections, including newly applicable protections for criminal antitrust complainants against unlawful retaliation.
In its statement, USDA and DOJ say the meatpacking industry has consolidated rapidly in recent decades. Meanwhile, farmers’ share of the value of their agricultural products has decreased, and poultry farmers, hog farmers, cattle ranchers and other agricultural workers may struggle to retain autonomy and to make sustainable incomes. For example, ranchers received more than 60 cents of every dollar a consumer spent on beef 50 years ago, compared to approximately 39 cents today. Hog farmers fared worse over the past 50 years, as their share of the consumer dollar fell from between 40 to 60 cents 50 years ago to approximately 19 cents today.
Producers who choose not to use the farmerfairness.gov portal also can submit complaints or tips about potentially anticompetitive practices by emailing [email protected]; calling (833) 342-5773; or mailing Stop 3601, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C., 20250-3601.
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