U.S. proposes new rules to prevent meat companies from retaliating against farmers

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U.S. proposes new rules to prevent meat companies from retaliating against farmers

CHICAGO Reuters - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing regulations to prevent meat companies from retaliating against livestock and poultry farmers who speak out about practices such as price-fixing.

The USDA said it would work with state attorneys general to investigate anticompetitive practices in the agricultural sector that contribute to inflation.

The move is to increase competition in the highly concentrated meat industry as part of a larger effort by the Biden administration.

The White House is going to present the plans on Monday at a third meeting of President Joe Biden's competition council, which was created in 2021.

The USDA said that it would prohibit meat companies from retaliating against farmers and ranchers who take part in lawful communication and whistle blowing on price-fixing or who participate in associations. The agency said that it would try to protect farmers who may be at higher risk for mistreatment because of race, gender, sexuality or religion.

The Packers and Stockyards Act, a century-old law, was intended to protect farmers from unfair market practices.

The USDA said that it would identify unlawfully deceptive practices that were in violation of the act, including those related to the formation and termination of contracts between farmers and meat companies.

In May, the USDA proposed another rule that would require poultry companies to be more transparent with contract chicken growers. The rules are intended to improve on previous USDA efforts to protect farmers.

In February, JBS SA agreed to pay $52.5 million for a lawsuit accusing meatpacking companies of conspiring to limit supply in the U.S. beef market in order to inflate prices and boost profits. The executives who worked for Pilgrim's Pride and another poultry producer were not guilty of fixing prices in the poultry sector this year.