Specifically, USDA announced its intent to invest $500 million in American Rescue Plan funds to expand meat and poultry processing capacity so that farmers, ranchers, and consumers have more choices in the marketplace. USDA also announced more than $150 million for existing small and very small processing facilities to help them weather COVID, compete in the marketplace and get the support they need to reach more customers. USDA is also holding meatpackers accountable by revitalizing the Packers and Stockyards Act, issuing new rules on “Product of USA” labels, and developing plans to expand farmers’ access to new markets.
“The COVID-19 pandemic led to massive disruption for growers, food workers, and consumers alike. It exposed a food system that was rigid, consolidated, and fragile. Meanwhile, those growing, processing and preparing our food are earning less each year in a system that rewards size over all else,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “To shift the balance of power back to the people, USDA will invest in building more, better, and fairer markets for producers and consumers alike. The investments USDA will make in expanding meat and poultry capacity, along with restoration of the Packers and Stockyards Act, will begin to level the playing field for farmers and ranchers. This is a once in a generation opportunity to transform the food system so it is more resilient to shocks, delivers greater value to growers and workers, and offers consumers an affordable selection of healthy food produced and sourced locally and regionally by farmers and processors from diverse backgrounds. I am confident USDA’s investments in expanded capacity will spur millions more in leveraged funding from the private sector and state and local partners as our efforts gain traction across the country.”
The announcement USDA is making today is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s historic commitment to fight monopolization and promote competition across the economy. They are also aligned with USDA’s vision of a food system that is fair, competitive, distributed, and resilient, one that supports health and ensures producers receive a fair share of the food dollar while advancing equity and combating the climate crisis. In the coming months, USDA will take additional steps to promote competition and make a series of additional investments under USDA’s Build Back Better Initiative focused on building a better food system.
Market Concentration in Agriculture
As key agricultural markets have become more concentrated and less competitive, farmers and ranchers are getting squeezed from both sides. Markets for farm inputs—like seeds and fertilizer—are now dominated by just a few companies. Meanwhile, farmers and ranchers have fewer and fewer options for selling their products. The result is that often family farmers and ranchers are getting less, consumers are paying more, and those in the middle are taking the difference.
Dominant companies can use their power to engage in abusive practices and make it harder for farmers, ranchers, and consumers to get a fair price. Farmers’ share of every dollar spent on food has declined consistently from 35 cents in the 1970s to around just 14 cents in recent years.
Concentration in food processing has contributed to bottlenecks in America’s food supply chain, too. Just a few meatpackers, with a few large processing facilities, process most of the livestock that farmers and ranchers raise into the meat that we buy. For example, just four large meat-packing companies control over 80 percent of the beef market alone. One of the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic is that this system is too rigid and too fragile. When COVID slowed or shuttered meat processing, many farmers had no place to go. Farmers were forced to depopulate their animals, while grocery store shelves went bare and demand for food assistance spiked. These vulnerabilities are not new. And, given current concerns about climate and cybersecurity, these risks are likely to grow even more sharply in the future.
USDA is announcing the following initiatives to increase competition in agricultural markets, and build more resilience supply chains:
Investing More Than $500 million to Increase Competition and Capacity in the Meat and Poultry Processing Markets.
Providing more than $150 million to Strengthen Existing Small and Very Small Processing Facilities and Help Them Weather COVID, Stay in the Marketplace, and Expand Capacity
Leveling the Playing Field for Independent Family Farmers and Ranchers
Building a Better Food System and Strengthening the Food Supply Chain
Citing lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and recent supply chain disruptions, earlier this month USDA announced plans to invest more than $4 billion to strengthen critical supply chains through USDA’s Build Back Better initiative to strengthen and transform the food system, using funding from the American Rescue Plan and the Consolidated Appropriations Act. The $500 million commitment to invest in meat and poultry processing today begins to detail how the $4 billion will be deployed. The new effort will strengthen the food system, create new market opportunities, tackle the climate crisis, help communities that have been left behind, and support good-paying jobs throughout the supply chain. A transformed food system will provide producers with a greater share of the food dollar and make agriculture a more compelling career. It will also improve nutrition and the health status of Americans, reducing the costs of healthcare and diet-related diseases.
Through USDA’s Build Back Better initiative, USDA will help to ensure the food system of the future is fair, competitive, distributed, and resilient; supports health with access to healthy, affordable food; ensures growers and workers receive a greater share of the food dollar; and advances equity as well as climate resilience and mitigation.
While USDA’s Build Back Better initiative addresses near- and long-term issues, recent events have exposed the immediate need for action. USDA’s actions to promote competition and the intention to invest in additional small- and medium-sized meat processing capacity will spur economic opportunity while strengthening resilience and certainty for producers and consumers alike.
This announcement also furthers the Biden-Harris Administration’s work on strengthening the resilience of critical supply chains as directed by Executive Order 14017 on America’s Supply Chains. USDA’s efforts to strengthen the food system is a vital component of the Administration’s whole-of-government response to address near-term supply chain challenges to the economic recovery. Through the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, of which Secretary Vilsack is a member, the Administration is convening stakeholders to diagnose problems and surface solutions—large and small, public or private—that could help alleviate bottlenecks and supply constraints related to the economy’s reopening after the Administration’s historic vaccination and economic relief efforts.