Executive order to promote competition in agriculture, food a good first step

President Joe Biden has issued an executive order that takes significant action to reduce the trend of corporate consolidation, increase competition, and deliver concrete benefits to America’s consumers, workers, farmers, and small businesses.

The Missouri Rural Crisis Center, a statewide farm and rural membership organization representing the interests of independent family farms and rural communities, has long led the call for action to stop further corporatization and concentration within agriculture and our food system.

President Biden and his administration’s commendable effort to level the playing field and increase fairness and competition within our food, livestock and agricultural industries is a hopeful first step in addressing the corporate control of our food production, processing and distribution that has threatened our economies, national security, water and air, climate and democratic process.

The status quo has severely impacted our ability to have a safe and secure food system, endangered the livelihoods of independent family farmers and has extracted huge amounts of wealth from our rural communities.

For example, today, most of the hogs in the United States are owned or controlled by enormous factory farm corporations—50% of the hog market is controlled by two foreign-owned meatpackers, Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods and Brazilian-owned JBS.

Over the last three decades, factory farm corporations, the biggest now owned by foreign corporations with ties to foreign governments, have put hundreds of thousands of independent hog producers out of business, which resulted in putting thousands of local, independently owned processors out of business.

A family farm system is the solution.

We need strong action to combat the corporate concentration and vertical integration of our food supply. The COVID-19 pandemic clearly demonstrated the fragility of this corporate model by its inability to adequately respond to the unfolding crisis. Plant shutdowns and slowdowns caused record high meat prices for consumers at the supermarket while independent family farm producers received low prices for their livestock.

The truth is that we need more family farmers and more local processors in our food system. We need policies that lift up diversification and decentralization of our food supply, for the betterment of both farmers and consumers and for the future of food security.

The executive order focuses on strengthening and enforcing antitrust laws, which is a strong first step in decentralizing our food system and promoting independent family farmers instead of a few multinational corporations that have no accountability to our nation, natural resources or communities.

It also instructs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to close the loophole that allows for imported livestock and meat to be labeled as “Product of the U.S.A.,” which is needed. Furthermore, we are also demanding that Congress reinstate mandatory Country of Origin Labeling in support of U.S. beef producers, and consumers’ right to choose U.S. raised beef.

Future farm and food policies also must include: addressing the ability of farmers to get cost-of-production from open and competitive markets, ensuring that consumers have access to food at fair prices, stopping corporate factory farms from exploiting taxpayer-funded programs and protecting farm and food industry workers from corporate exploitation.

Now, it’s our task to hold Congress and the administration’s feet to the fire to take the next steps towards fairness in our food system.

Together, we can rise to the challenge.

Rhonda Perry is the executive director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and a fifth-generation livestock and grain farmer from Howard County, Missouri.