Earlier this week, National Farmers Union (NFU) submitted formal comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in response to a request for information on “Investments and Opportunities for Meat and Poultry Processing Infrastructure.” In the wake of the July 9, 2021 Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, as well as the American Rescue Plan Act, USDA is redoubling its efforts to build a more diversified meat processing sector. The NFU comments note that while the Act includes directives to provide funding for a more diverse marketplace, underlying competition issues will need to be addressed through enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act and antitrust laws.
The comments by Rob Larew, NFU President, reiterated the need to strategically direct federal support towards enhancing resiliency and fostering competition in the meat and poultry processing sector.
“This idea has been a top priority for our members for decades,” wrote Rob Larew, NFU President, “As NFU seeks to ensure that farm families and their communities are respected, valued, and enjoy economic prosperity and social justice, we look forward to working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on this issue.”
“These investments are a critical component of President Biden’s Executive Order on competition and represent an important step forward in achieving a more diverse and secure food supply chain and agricultural economy,” Larew commented. “When COVID-19 brought disruptions to our livestock markets and food supply, the need for additional, diversified processing capacity became evident to policymakers and the general public.”
NFU comments detail challenges and offer specific guidance to USDA on increasing processing competitiveness, including:
· USDA must be mindful of the market environment in order to assure long-term success in diversifying the marketplace, recognizing that processing sector concentration places extreme pressure on new entrants to the meat industry.
· USDA should emphasize producer-owned cooperative business structures when offering financial assistance to the development of new processing facilities.
· USDA should stop the sale of new or expanded processing facilities to the largest processors to prevent further consolidation and should similarly prohibit the purchase of these new facilities by foreign-controlled entities. Without caution and monitoring, there could be reductions in worker safety and increases in consolidation or foreign ownership of processing capacity.
· USDA funding should include processing plant worker training, through degree programs, certifications, and other educational opportunities.
· USDA should dedicate resources to helping smaller processing facilities have access to shared services in human resources management, compliance, and training.