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Hog farmers want fair-competition law

by 5m Editor
24 September 2007, at 11:15am

WASHINGTON D.C. - There was a time when meatpackers would bid against each other to buy hogs from farmers like Chris Peterson. That bidding increased the price Peterson could get.

The farm bill soon to be taken up in the U.S. Senate is likely to include provisions increasing the government's ability to restrict the rights of meatpackers and to better enforce fair-competition laws.

That time is long gone. Most hogs - and chickens for that matter - are raised under some kind of contract or owned outright by the packers.

Could the clock be rolled back? Probably not, but some on Congress will try to weaken packers' market power. The farm bill that the Senate Agriculture Committee will soon take up is likely to include the provisions increasing the government's ability to enforce fair-competition laws and restricting packers' legal rights.

There's also a good chance that the Senate will add a provision banning packers from owning livestock.

"It's never too late to address these issues and put the opportunities back out there for farmers to be independent producers," said Peterson, who raises hogs near Clear Lake.

The chairman of the Senate committee, Tom Harkin, D-Ia., plans to include a section in his proposed bill dedicated to livestock marketing.

One of the most controversial of his provisions would install an office of special counsel at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate and prosecute violations of marketing restrictions. Critics say the USDA does little to investigate complaints; litigation is left up to the Justice Department.

The legislation also would allow farmers to go to court rather than submit to binding arbitration when they have disputes with packers over contracts. Other provisions are designed to make it easier for farmers to prevail in cases, including ensuring that a producer's lawsuit would be heard in his home state's courts, not the packer's.

Harkin said the farm bill must provide "basic protections to producers in the marketplace."

Source: DesMoinesRegister.com

5m Editor