North Dakota Farmers Union today urged the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to finalize rules that will protect family farmers and ranchers against anti-competitive and unfair conditions in heavily concentrated ag markets by implementing Farmer Fair Practices Rules.

“These rules will level the playing field between companies and families who raise livestock under contract,” said NDFU President Mark Watne. “With just a handful of companies controlling livestock and poultry markets, producers become price takers and have virtually no control over the prices they are paid or, in many cases, the way they raise their animals.”

Watne said the rules are a clarification of the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921, which was written to protect farmers and consumers from monopolistic practices and unfair or deceptive practices in the meatpacking industry.

Four giant meatpacking companies currently control 85 percent of the beef market, 74 percent of the pork market, and more than half of the poultry market.

“These rules give farmers and ranchers some basic protections under the law,” said Watne. “As agricultural markets continue to become more consolidated, it’s important that family farmers and ranchers are protected against anti-competitive and unfair conditions.”

Watne noted that USDA has tried for years to implement the rules, but those efforts have been largely blocked by meatpacking interests that have swayed Congress.