Attorney General Bonta Supports USDA Proposal to Protect Competition in the Agriculture Industry

Wednesday, January 18, 2023
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

Calls for stronger protections against discrimination and retaliation for small rural farmers

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta, as part of a multistate coalition, filed a comment letter in support of a proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to promote competition in the agriculture industry and strengthen enforcement under the federal Packers and Stockyards Act. The USDA’s proposed rule would prohibit discrimination and retaliatory practices against vulnerable producers, improve USDA monitoring and enforcement of these prohibitions, and more clearly identify deceptive practices that would be violations of the Act. The states issue strong support for these proposed changes, but urge USDA to include additional safeguards which would especially help protect small, rural farmers.

“Consumers and farmers alike are paying the price for consolidation in the agriculture industry and small rural farmers pay a particularly high price,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Small family farms are being squeezed out of the marketplace and have suffered from discrimination and retaliation as they advocate for their businesses. With the price of meat on the rise, it is more important than ever to strengthen enforcement and increase competition in this industry, but we must better even the scales for small rural farmers.”

For a century, the Packers and Stockyards Act has served as an important tool to ensure competition and fair practices in the livestock, meat, and poultry industries. However, structural changes, including corporate consolidation and changes in sales and marketing practices, have reduced competition in meat processing markets and driven many smaller meat producers out of business. Today, the meatpacking industry — beef, pork, and poultry — is dominated by just a few processors, and this concentration of power negatively impacts California consumer and producers, especially small rural farmers.

In the letter, the attorneys general express strong support for these proposed changes, but urge the USDA to go even further to ensure accountability. The states request that the USDA add additional protections as part of the proposal by:

  • Listing small rural farmers as market vulnerable producers, or individuals who have been subjected to unfair treatment in the marketplace, and providing these farmers with greater safeguards against discrimination; and
  • Creating stronger definitions of “protected activity” from retaliation to include notifications by market vulnerable individuals to regulated entities, such as meat packers, of potential contract violations.

California is an agricultural leader in the United States, generating more than $50 billion in economic output in 2019 alone. Nearly one-quarter of that value comes from livestock production. The California Department of Justice is committed to protecting a fair and competitive marketplace, supporting the farms that have long been the bedrock of California's economy, and protecting quality and consumer choice in the agriculture industry.

The letter continues Attorney General Bonta’s advocacy for competition in the agricultural industry and on behalf of farmers. In August 2022, Attorney General Bonta, as part of a bipartisan coalition, filed a comment letter in strong support for proposed changes to the Act, but urged the USDA to go even further to ensure accountability for poultry farmers. In December 2021, Attorney General Bonta joined a bipartisan coalition in support of the USDA’s efforts to promote competition in the agriculture industry by strengthening enforcement.

Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Minnesota, Illinois, and Maryland in filing the comment letter, which can be found here.

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