In July of 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sought public input on how to support President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy and enhance competitiveness in the meat and poultry processing sector. Specifically, USDA was soliciting advice on how to invest an estimated $500 million of American Rescue Plan funds to improve infrastructure, increase capacity, and hasten diversification across the processing industry. After speaking with numerous farmers, processors, and colleagues from worker justice and environmental justice organizations, RAFI-USA submitted a comment.
In our comment, we highlighted the high prices, long drives, lack of choice, and long wait times farmers and ranchers experience, and noted the fragility of the current highly concentrated processing sector to shocks. We urged the USDA to ensure that its investment reaches small and very small plants that will actually increase the choices farmers have rather than bolstering the large meatpacking integrators who have been driving small and very small plants — and farmers — out of business. We also noted that for processing facilities to be successful, they would need technical assistance and sufficient markets and distribution capacity.
This Monday, the White House released a Fact Sheet on The Biden-Harris Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain, which lays out a variety of programs and funding intended to address the issues. The White House also held a roundtable on the same topics, attended by President Biden, Secretary Vilsack, Attorney General Garland, and independent farmers and ranchers. We saw many of our concerns and priorities reflected by the administration. They acknowledged the farmer’s falling percentage of every consumer dollar; the increasing dominance of giant corporations in rural communities and the ways in which those corporations extract rural wealth; and the vulnerability of a highly concentrated supply chain. In addition to funding for new and expanded independent processing, the administration’s action plan also recognized the need for holistic support, designating funds for technical assistance and research as well as supply chain development.
RAFI-USA applauds the Biden administration’s commitment to fairness, competition, and resilience in the meat and poultry supply chain.
We share the goals of increasing producer income, expanding independent processing capacity, supporting worker safety and good wages, increasing market transparency and issuing strong new rules under the Packers & Stockyards Act. We also applaud the increased coordination announced between the Department of Justice and USDA for a joint channel for farmers to report unfair or anticompetitive conduct and hope it will result in a more efficient and effective way for farmers to share their concerns.
We appreciate the action steps which the Biden administration has shared and we look forward to engaging on the details of these programs. In implementing our shared goals, RAFI-USA also believes that it will be important to keep in mind the following considerations to ensure that funds are successfully and equitably distributed to the greatest benefit of farmers, ranchers, consumers, and rural communities:
- Scale-appropriate regulation will be absolutely essential to allowing small and very small plants to be financially sustainable.
- Grant and credit opportunities must take into account the racial wealth gap created by decades of discrimination. To ensure that ownership of funded facilities is equitably representative demographically, USDA should give funding priority to applicants that are Black, indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC)-led processing establishments.
- USDA should mandate a 10-year ban on sales of facilities (which are built or expanded using these federal funds) to large or multinational corporations.
- USDA should focus on funding processing plants with 200 or fewer employees.