Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., has introduced a House companion to the Farm System Reform Act, previously introduced by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in the Senate.
The legislation strengthens the Packers & Stockyards Act to protect family farmers from anti-competitive practices and corporate consolidation and promotes a fair market for all producers, Khanna said.
The Farm System Restoration Act of 2019 will:
- Place an immediate moratorium on new and expanding large CAFOs, and transition by 2040 the largest CAFOs as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency;
- Provide a voluntary buyout for farmers who want to transition out of operating a CAFO;
- Hold corporate integrators responsible for pollution and other harm caused by CAFOs;
- Prohibit the use of unfair tournament or ranking systems for paying contract growers;
- Protect livestock and poultry farmers from retaliation;
- Create market transparency and protect farmers and ranchers from predatory purchasing practices;
- Restore mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements for beef and pork and expand it to dairy products; and
- Prohibit USDA from labeling foreign imported meat products as “Product of USA."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is a co-sponsor of the Senate legislation. House co-sponsors include: Reps. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-Washington, D.C.
Why is the bill needed?
The current trend of agricultural economic concentration across rural American family farms isn’t inevitable: it’s the result of failed policy, creating dangerous bottlenecks in the middle of the COVID-19 public health crisis, Khanna said.
Today, the top four beef packing companies in the U.S. control nearly 85% of the market. The top four pork packers control 71% of the market. Just four companies control 90% of the entire global grain trade. Many of these companies are vertically integrated and, through contracts with farmers, control the way the livestock are fed and sheltered. These integrators retain ownership of the animals, but the contract growers absorb the risks and the costs.
By allowing a livestock market dependent on just four big companies, our food supply is now vulnerable to shocks like the pandemic. Just last week, after more than a dozen meatpacking plants closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to keep plants open, despite the risks this move places on workers.
What do sponsors say?
“Giant meatpackers cannot be permitted to continue to profit off of the labor of family farmers, consolidating the food industry to the point that our supply chain is threatened,” Khanna said. “Congress must step in to ensure an honest market, or risk losing another historic industry to the hands of big corporations. If we had a food system with fair competition, independent and diversified producers would provide a dependable and sustainable food supply.”
“Our food system was not broken by the pandemic and it was not broken by independent family farmers,” Booker said. “We need to fix this broken system. That means protecting family farmers and food system workers and holding corporate integrators responsible for the harm they are causing.”
“For years, regulators looked the other way while giant multinational corporations crushed competition in the agriculture sector and seized control over key markets,” Warren said. “The COVID-19 crisis will make it easier for Big Ag to get even bigger, gobble up smaller farms, and lead to fewer choices for consumers. We need to attack this consolidation head-on and give workers, farmers, and consumers bargaining power in our farm and food system.”
“As consumers face shocking food shortages, meatpacking plants are forced to shut down because of runaway infection rates among workers, and farmers destroy tens of thousands of acres of crops as supply chains break down, COVID-19 is revealing just how vulnerable corporate consolidation has made our agriculture sector to disruption and volatility,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland.