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USDA, states eye cheaper food by targeting anticompetitive acts

A worker stacks packets of ground beef in the meat section of a Costco warehouse club during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Webster, Texas, U.S., May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Adrees Latif A worker stacks packets of ground beef in the meat section of a Costco warehouse club during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Webster, Texas, U.S., May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

The USDA said it would coordinate with the bipartisan group of attorneys general on antitrust enforcement amid concerns about industry practices. Farmers and ranchers have for decades complained of poor prices and unfair contracts from the biggest buyers and processors in the highly consolidated agriculture sector.

WASHINGTON, D.C. July 25, 2023 (Reuters) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking to lower food prices and boost competition by joining with 31 states and Washington, D.C., to target price fixing and other anticompetitive behavior in the food and agriculture sectors. The USDA said it would coordinate with the bipartisan group of attorneys general on antitrust enforcement amid concerns about industry practices.

Farmers and ranchers have for decades complained of poor prices and unfair contracts from the biggest buyers and processors in the highly consolidated agriculture sector. Months of food price inflation, only recently abating, have also raised questions from farm groups and lawmakers about whether companies were artificially hiking prices.

“We can ensure a more robust and competitive agricultural sector,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement. The USDA partnership with states will focus on anticompetitive practices including price fixing and gouging, as well as create new research programs to study the issue, the department said.

In the coming months, USDA will also finalize new rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act, a century-old antitrust law meant to protect farmers from anticompetitive conduct, a senior administration official said in a call with reporters. USDA has already proposed two of three expected rules. The agency will also disburse additional grants to expand meat and poultry processing capacity that would increase the number of options for ranchers, the official said.

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