OPINION With almost every industry enduring crushing levels of corporate power, President Joe Biden has signed an executive order aimed at promoting competition and fairness throughout the economy.
The order includes 72 directives that will be carried out by 12 federal agencies, many of which target the agricultural sector. For instance it advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture to offer livestock farmers greater recourse against corporations when they are treated unfairly, to restructure the inequitable system that determines poultry-grower wages and to prevent corporations from retaliating against farmers who speak out about discriminatory conduct. It would also give farmers the right to repair their equipment – which many companies currently restrict. It would limit “Product of USA” labels strictly to meat raised domestically, and support the development of local and regional food systems.
Farmers and rural residents would benefit from several other provisions that would make rail-shipping rates more competitive, stem consolidation among rural hospitals, and encourage more choices in banking and credit in rural communities.
Since it was founded in 1902 the National Farmers Union has been dedicated to protecting farmers from corporate abuse, an endeavor that has only intensified in recent decades in response to a wave of mergers and acquisitions. We laud the administration for taking this monumental step toward protecting farmers from anticompetitive practices.
During the past 50 years we’ve seen dramatic consolidation in the agricultural industry, with just a handful of corporations seizing control over each link in the food supply chain. It’s no coincidence that has coincided with a slew of problems for farmers – depressed prices, little bargaining power, few choices, misleading labels, and the inability to repair their own equipment, among other headaches. If that weren’t enough, extreme concentration has also made our food system extremely vulnerable to disruptions and bottlenecks, as has become abundantly clear recently in the wake of extreme weather events, the pandemic and cyberattacks.
After suffering corporate abuse for so many years, it’s reassuring that farmers may finally have a level playing field. The executive order will offer them more autonomy in their relationships with corporations, protections from mistreatment, fairer and more-accurate labeling, the right to repair their machinery and more robust local markets – which, taken together, will go a long way toward building the resilient, equitable food system that farmers and consumers deserve. We urge the administration to swiftly implement the changes and follow them with strong antitrust enforcement.
Rob Larew is president of the National Farmers Union, which advocates on behalf of almost 200,000 American farm families and their communities. Visit NFU.org for more information.