North Dakota Farmers Union today urged the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to strengthen the nation’s food supply chain by restoring competition and fairness in markets that are dominated by a handful of multinational companies.

In comments submitted to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, Farmers Union called for greater antitrust enforcement and outlined instances of growing concentration in agriculture and food supply chains that have jeopardized our nation’s food system resilience. The most egregious event occurred last year in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, causing meatpacking plant closures that resulted in major financial losses to ranchers when the spread between fed cattle and boxed beef prices soared by more than 300%.

“Without competition in the marketplace, farmers and ranchers make less money, and consumers pay more for food,” said North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne. “Market concentration is weakening our food supply chain and the ability of everyone to put food on the table.”

For decades, Watne said Farmers Union has called for USDA to take antitrust action against anticompetitive behavior in consolidated ag markets. While Farmers Union continues to urge USDA to act, it also is calling for expanded local and regional processing and supply chains, stronger truth-in-labeling laws, and relaxed barriers to intrastate and interstate sales of meat. “This would give farmers and ranchers more alternatives and better market opportunities,” Watne said.

Additionally, Farmers Union is calling on USDA to immediately leverage existing rural development programs for investment in local and regional processing projects, and greater support for farmer-owned cooperatives.