OPINION This past month 35 farm and food organizations called on elected officials and candidates running for office to address the disproportionate market power held by the giant agribusinesses that dominate the livestock and poultry markets. The list of priorities for creating fair and competitive markets for family farmers is endorsed by groups from across the country that represent producers raising livestock and poultry.

Our food system is clearly rigged. While just a handful of multi-national corporations have been allowed to exert more and more control over every step of the agricultural supply chain, farmers and ranchers have been left to cope with increased production costs and fewer marketing choices as well as unfair and abusive business practices. Those factors have contributed to the increasingly slim profit margins that have forced too many farms to close their doors. Between 2012 and 2017, almost 70,000 farms went out of business. Most of them were mid-sized family-owned operations. In light of those circumstances, it’s critical we act now to restore fair competition to agriculture. As the field of 2020 candidates vie for the presidency, we urge them to take the issue of corporate consolidation and anti-trust enforcement seriously by incorporating those recommendations into their platforms.

The policy changes urged by the groups are needed because the largest meatpackers and processors control all stages of food-animal production, forcing farmers into one-sided contracts that eliminate market transparency, depress prices, undermine the livelihoods of independent farmers and ranchers, and threaten farmer ability to adopt sustainable-production practices.

The groups are calling on elected officials and candidates to support measures to rebalance the economic relationships between farmers, ranchers, consumers, workers and food companies.

  • Enforce and strengthen antitrust and fair-practice laws, including enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act.
  • Ensure access to fair farm credit, including holding lenders accountable for equitable lending practices.
  • Restore mandatory country-of-origin labeling for beef and pork.
  • Stop subsidizing overproduction, including restricting government-loan guarantees to large-scale contract operations.
  • Break up food and agriculture monopolies, including instituting a moratorium on new mergers in the food and agriculture system.
  • Stop subsidizing foreign corporations, by prohibiting federal-procurement programs from buying meat from animals born, raised or slaughtered outside the United States.
  • Level the playing field for independent processors, including addressing the bias in food-safety regulations toward large corporate slaughter and processing facilities.

Roger Johnson is the president of the National Farmers Union, which believes that good opportunities in production agriculture are the foundation of strong farm and ranch families, and strong farm and ranch families are the basis for thriving rural communities. Vibrant rural communities, in turn, are vital to the health, security and economic well-being of the entire national economy. Visit nfu.org for more information.