Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), issued a press release today calling for an investigation into USDA's role in livestock and poultry market fairness.

He cited the rapidly concentrating livestock industry as the need for "a full account of how thoroughly and effectively USDA is carrying out its responsibilities under the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921."

PSA was passed to protect producers from unfair, anti-competitive and deceptive practices in the livestock and poultry markets, Harkin's release stated.

In a letter to USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong, the senator called for an investigation into how aggressively and accurately USDA's Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Administration is examining and reporting anti-competitive and unfair market practices.

GIPSA is the agency within USDA responsible for enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act. Sen. Harkin is the ranking Democrat on the Senate agriculture, nutrition and forestry committee.

"In Iowa and across the country, many of our family-sized livestock producers are disappearing as large, corporate, vertically integrated operations grow," Harkin said. "This trend is very disturbing and the lack of attention given to this issue by USDA is unacceptable. Serious questions persist about USDA's commitment to enforcing the provisions of the Packers and Stockyards Act. That is why I am asking Ms. Fong to take a very close look at what USDA is doing to protect producers and root out unfair, anti-competitive actions in livestock markets."

Harkin's letter to the USDA Inspector General focuses on a several concerns with GIPSA's enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, including:

"USDA's failure to act against bad actors for anti-competitive activities in the marketplace in the form of administrative complaints or proposing new rules or modifications to existing rules to keep up with the rapid changes in the market system. Possible inflation of the number of actual investigations conducted by the competition division in annual GIPSA reports to suggest a high rate of enforcement activity is taking place when in fact it is not. How USDA has interpreted and carried out recommendations from a 2000 Government Accountability Office report, reportedly in ways that block and tie up investigations at GIPSA headquarters in Washington, D.C. A high rate of staff turnover within the competition division attributed to low office morale, problems with leadership and GIPSA staff believing they are not allowed to conduct or move investigations forward."

"More than 80 years has passed since passage of the Packers and Stockyards Act, yet we are still having constantly tourge USDA to enforce the law," Harkin said. "It is time for USDA to step up to the plate and actively and aggressively investigate anti-competitive behavior to ensure that all livestock producers have an open and fair marketplace."

Last October, Harkin released a Democratic staff report detailing the affects that an overly consolidated and unfair market system in the livestock industry poses to independent producers. This report can viewd going to www.harkin.senate.gov and clicking on agriculture. The report is titled "Economic Concentration and Structural Change in the Food and Agricultural Sector: Trends, Consequences and Policy Options." 

Sen. Tom Harkin, press release