Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says livestock producers would see more competition and fairness in their industry under legislation he’s introducing today (Thursday). Harkin, a democrat, says the bill is needed to offer a series of changes in response to failures at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prevent manipulative, anti-competitive behavior.
Harkin says Iowa farmers know all too well, the agri-business sector is becoming more dominated by large corporations. He says only four firms control 84-percent of the cattle market and four firms control 64-percent of the hog market. He quotes economists who say when four firms control over 40-percent of the industry, marketplace competitiveness begins to decline.
Harkin says these large companies “exert a lot of power to skew the market in their favor.” His legislation is called the “Competitive and Fair Agricultural Markets Act of 2006” and he details some of its elements. Harkin says his bill would make certain the U-S-D-A has the authority to “go after” the bad actors in the marketplace and it would “light a fire under U-S-D-A” to enforce the law. It would see the appointing of a high-profile point person whose only responsiblity would be to investigate and punish unfair, anti-competitive behavior in the agricultural markets.
Harkin says the bill would strengthen the ability of producers to succeed in such cases and would provide needed protections for producers who use agricultural contracts. Harkin says the power of large agribusiness firms can be countered by enabling farmers to band together to bargain for better prices and better terms, so the bill would update the Agricultural Fair Practices Act to help farmers join together in associations or co-ops to deal more effectively with agribusiness companies.