Fair Prices for Producers and Consumers

July 20, 2023

The Biden Administration is launching a new Agricultural Competition Partnership to "crack down on price-gouging and other anti-competitive practices in food and agricultural markets" and create a new "Farmer Seed Liaison" to deal with patent issues.

As part of the Biden administration's moves on competition in the economy, USDA announced the new partnership on Wednesday with attorneys general from 31 states "to tackle anti-competitive market structures in agriculture and related industries."

Under the Agricultural Competition Partnership, this bipartisan group will be able to harness all available legal enforcement tools -- at both the state and federal level -- to help lower food prices and promote competition in agricultural markets," the White House stated.

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Through a framework established in consultation with the state attorneys general, this new partnership will assist state attorneys general in tackling anticompetitive market structures in agriculture and related industries that are raising prices and limiting choices for consumers and producers. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the partnership at the White House Competition Council meeting, which marked the second anniversary of President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to addressing corporate consolidation and its negative effects on the U.S. economy, such as unfair competition and increased prices,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “By placing necessary resources where they are needed most and helping states identify and address anticompetitive and anti-consumer behavior, in partnership with federal authorities, through these cooperative agreements we can ensure a more robust and competitive agricultural sector. I’m pleased to see that a bipartisan group of states have committed to joining USDA in better protecting the fair and competitive markets that are a critical cornerstone of the American economy.”

Building on the “whole of government” approach outlined in President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy USDA issued a challenge to the state attorneys general to partner with USDA on competition in food and agriculture. This came after more than a dozen state attorneys general wrote to Secretary Vilsack requesting additional support for agricultural competition matters.

Background on Agricultural Competition Partnership

Under this new Agricultural Competition Partnership, USDA is investing in opportunities to combine state and federal authorities, expertise, and market insights. The agency is also leveraging funds to support complex cases and to jointly support research and academic work for use in future cases.

Focus areas of the Agricultural Competition Partnership include:

  • Anticompetitive market structures and practices, as well as price gouging and other anti-consumer practices, in food, retail, meat and poultry processing, and other agriculture industries.
  • Lack of choices for consumers and producers.
  • Conflicts of interest, misuse of intellectual property, and anticompetitive barriers across the food and agriculture supply chains, such as in seed markets.

Specifically, this initiative will enhance the capacity of state attorneys general to conduct on-the-ground assessments of competition and consumer issues, enhance coordination between federal and state agriculture and competition authorities, create new and more independent research programs, and ultimately result in fairer and competitive markets and more resilient supply chains.

At the request of the states, USDA is partnering with the Center for State Enforcement of Antitrust and Consumer Protection Laws, a neutral, nonpartisan organization that provides similar support to the states. The State Center is establishing the necessary mechanisms for the attorneys general to cooperate with USDA. These mechanisms include an oversight committee to establish the project governance and transparency standards for the partnership, and a project selection advisory committee that will review project requests and recommend approval. USDA is dedicating $15 million for competition-related partnerships, the bulk of which is with the State Center for the Agricultural Competition Partnership to support joint efforts with state Attorneys General. Both committees will be composed of participating state attorney general offices. Additionally, USDA has engaged the American Antitrust Institute to be a resource for the states on this project.

All States are eligible to join by sending a letter of intent to participate to USDA. States can join or depart at any time. Only participating partners can qualify for funds or serve on the committees. A list of the states participating in the Partnership is available on the AMS Fair and Competitive Markets webpage.

Additional USDA Efforts to Promote Competition and the Farmer Seed Liaison Initiative

At the White House Competition Council meeting, Secretary Vilsack also discussed USDA’s recent investments to increase independent meat and poultry processing capacity, expand market opportunities for farmers, and support a growing workforce in rural areas. He further highlighted USDA’s plans to issue and finalize a suite of rulemakings under the Packers and Stockyards Act to protect farmers and ranchers from abuse. Promoting competition to lower costs is a central component of Bidenomics.

Today USDA also announced the formal establishment of the Farmer Seed Liaison initiative, which aims to enhance transparency and reduce confusion for growers and plant breeders operating in a complex seed system. The Farmer Seed Liaison initiative launched in March following publication of the report, More and Better Choices for Farmers: Promoting Fair Competition and Innovation in Seeds and Other Agricultural Inputs. USDA continues to implement the report’s recommendations to help make our nation’s seed system more competitive and resilient. The Farmer Seed Liaison has now been formalized in the form of a coordinated team of USDA staff and academic cooperators who will work together to develop strategies for connecting farmers, plant breeders, seed producers, and other impacted stakeholders with other federal agencies.

As part of the Farmer Seed Liaison efforts, USDA announced the launch of a new web resource to simplify access to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) pending docket of plant patents and plant breeding-related utility patents. Available on the Farmer Seed Liaison webpage this resource provides automated searches of the database for common crop types, which gives farmers needed transparency about how they are affected by the patent system. Together with the web resources, the Seed Liaison team will help to give farmers a voice in the patent process, similar to AMS’s work on transportation. In addition, the Farmer Seed Liaison team underscores AMS’s commitment to the enforcement of the Federal Seed Act and related seeds competition concerns. AMS maintains a Federal Seed Act website for farmers and producers to learn more about the Federal Seed Act and to report complaints related to the seed market, such as variety labeling violations. For assistance connecting with the Federal working group on unfair or anticompetitive practices in seeds or for general inquiries or concerns in those areas, farmers and producers may contact the Farmer Seed Liaison team.

Sign-up to receive Seed Sower, the Farmer Seed Liaison newsletter with information about ongoing activities of the Farmer Seed Liaison initiative.

Source: USDA and Western Ag Network