Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced legislation, which he says is designed to "correct deficiencies in USDA’s enforcement over agricultural markets and to provide needed protections for producers involved in production contracts for agricultural commodities." 

The bill would reorganize USDA to streamline and improve enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act and Agricultural Fair Practices Act, says Harkin. It would establish an Office of Special Counsel, which would be responsible for investigating and prosecuting agricultural competition violations.

The President would appoint the Special Counsel and the Senate would have to approve the position, which would serve as a liaison between the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission. Further, the legislation would amend the Packers and Stockyards Act to:

  • Strengthen producer protectionsby making it easier for them to prove unfair actions by firms without additional burdens of having to prove adverse effects on competition.
  • GiveUSDA authority to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act in sales of poultry. Currently, it is illegal for poultry integrators to engage in unfair or anti-competitive practices, but current law denies USDA enforcement authority to prosecute violations. 

It also would amend the Agricultural Fair Practices Act to:

  • Prohibit unfair, unjustly discriminatory, anti-competitive or deceptive practicesby a person that affects the marketing, receiving, purchasing, sale or contracting of crops.
  • Provide needed contract protections to ensure that the production contract clearly spells out what is required of the producer, including: giving producers at least 3 days to review or cancel a production contract after signing it; prohibiting contracts from including confidentiality clauses so that producers are able to share the contract with family members or a lawyer to help them decide whether or not they should sign it; and prohibiting mandatory arbitration clauses so that producers are not prevented from going to the courts to resolve disputes. The legislation also would protect producers from having their production contracts arbitrarily terminated if they have made a sizable capital investment.
  • Prevent discrimination against producersbelonging to an organization or cooperative by removing a disclaimer clause from the Agricultural Fair Practices Act.

Source: National Pork Producers Council