(WASHINGTON) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a package of rules and orders that seek to increase competition in the livestock industry.
The package establishes a Chief Competition Officer at USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). This position – which will be hired as a career, rather than a political, appointee – will help to elevate and institutionalize competition-related concerns at the Department of Agriculture.
The package also updates AMS Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications that large volume purchasers such as Federal, State and Local Government agencies, schools, restaurants, hotels, and other food service users reference for procuring meat products. Currently, meat and meat products do have to be of domestic origin but the updated standards will specify that to mean only from animals that are born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S.
A recent audit report issued by the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) did not have an adequate, documented verification process in place to confirm origin claims for commodities purchased through the Food Purchase and Distribution Program (FPDP) in 2018. The program was authorized to spend up to $2.6 billion to purchase surplus commodities that included a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, nuts, beef, pork, chicken, eggs and dairy products.
The OIG report found at least $16.7 million worth of commodity purchase orders where the origin claims were unable to be verified or trace-backed. In total, over $140 million worth of commodity purchases through the FPDP were missing verification documentation.
This is an issue that Justin Tupper, president of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), highlighted in a recent article published in Agri-Pulse titled, “Foreign ownership of farmland just as destructive as displacing American producers in the grocery store.” USCA’s Independent Beef Processors Committee also flagged this as a top concern in multiple comments submitted to the USDA on federal procurement practices.
“Today’s announcement is another item crossed off of a long to-do list the Biden Administration is working through to ensure a fairer, more competitive marketplace for U.S. cattle producers,” said President Tupper.
“USCA looks forward to continuing its partnership with Secretary Tom Vilsack, Senior Advisor for Fair and Competitive Markets Andy Green, Undersecretary Jenny Moffit, and their very capable and hardworking teams to implement policies and protocols that support the American rancher and protect the American consumer.”