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Harvest Public Media reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues through a collaborative network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest and Plains.

The feds are pledging $1 billion to put small meatpackers on better footing against the big guys

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Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media
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Months after the Biden administration announced a plan to promote competition in the economy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture promises new regulations to prop up smaller meatpacking operations.

Along with $1 billion in American Rescue Plan money to help small processors expand, the USDA is revising the Packers and Stockyards Act. The law was created in 1921 to ensure a fair market. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the rules will be crafted early this year. The updates to the law take a long time because they need to be reviewed by lawyers to make the rule stand up against any legal challenges, he said.

The USDA and the U.S. Department of Justice are also launching an online portal where farmers and ranchers can file reports of potential violations of antitrust laws.

The Trump administration eliminated the USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration in charge of enforcing agriculture antitrust law. But Vilsack said ensuring fairness doesn’t need to happen in a separate office from the USDA.

“The key here is not having a separate office,” Vilsack said. "The key is having individuals in the mission area committed to a level playing field for producers."

Austin Frerick at the Thurman Arnold Project at Yale University remains skeptical the USDA’s efforts will do anything to break up the concentration in the industry and said money alone won’t help.

“It's like giving a bunch of money to like, Bing or Ask Jeeves and saying, ‘Good luck going against the Google Search monopoly,’” Frerick said.

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