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Down on the Farm: More Competition and Market Fairness

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Thursday, July 8, 2021   

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Farmers all over the U.S. contribute to the nation's food supply. But the meat and chicken you buy at the market typically is processed by only a handful of companies. After years of frustration producer advocates, including a Minnesota group, see hope in pending federal action.

The Biden administration says it's poised to announce farmer protections when it comes to market concentration. Among other things, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be directed to draft rules making it easier for ranchers to file complaints.

Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, cheered the move, and said while it might not resonate with the general public, it's important action in his industry.

"That's all the farmers are asking for, you know, is just a fair shake," said Wertish. "Everybody's the same. Everybody wants to be treated fairly no matter what type of job they are in, and how they work and farmers are no different. "

He said not only do farmers get paid less for their livestock under a heavily concentrated market, consumers wind up paying more for the final product.

Industry observers note four companies control roughly 80% of the beef market, with similar structures for other commodities. Groups advocating for processors have resisted reforms, saying they will lead to frivolous lawsuits.

Another planned move by the Biden administration would involve limiting the scope of "Made in the USA" labeling.

Wertish said currently, livestock can be raised overseas and processes minimally in America while still getting that label. He says that's not fair to Minnesota farmers.

"We're proud of the job that we do," said Wertish. "And we should be able to proudly display that on the label and the consumer should know what they're actually buying. "

While corn and soybeans are the top agriculture commodities in Minnesota, hogs and cattle also are in the top five. Prior to the anticipated order from President Joe Biden, the USDA recently announced it planned to bolster certain protections amid bipartisan calls from lawmakers to address the issue.




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