USDA Announces $600 Million to Increase Meat Processing Through the American Rescue Plan, Following Tester Push

Executive Order also addresses consolidation in packing industry, right to repair

Following his direct appeal to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last month urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make investments in new meat processing facilities, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today celebrated the USDA announcement that it would invest $500 million in meat and poultry capacity building with the goals of increasing choice and negotiation options for producers as well as $100 million in relief through a fee waiver for inspection and overtime fees for small and medium processors.

This funding is provided through the American Rescue Plan, the most recent coronavirus relief package, which Senator Tester helped negotiate. Tester was the only member of the Montana delegation to support the legislation.

“This announcement is welcome news for family ranchers across Montana,” said Tester. “Increasing capacity means more competition in the marketplace, which is essential to ensuring folks in production ag can make a living and that we keep meat prices affordable for families at the grocery store. I’m also glad the Administration is taking steps toward more aggressive enforcement against the big packers, but I won’t be satisfied unless these actions have real teeth to them.”

In addition to the USDA announcement, the White House announced an Executive Order establishing a whole-of-government effort to promote competition and reduce consolidation, including in agriculture markets. The Executive Order directs the USDA to consider issuing new rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act, and directs the agency to address price discovery, protect whistleblowers, increase opportunities for producers to access markets, support alternative food distribution systems, and develop standards so that consumers may choose to purchase products that support fair treatment of farmers and sustainable agricultural practices.

Tester, a champion of aggressively enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act to cut down on consolidation in the meat processing industry, recently secured Secretary Vilsack’s support for his bipartisan Meat Packing Special Investigator Act, which would create the “Office of the Special Investigator for Competition Matters” within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Packers and Stockyards Division.

Under Senator Tester’s proposed legislation, the new USDA special investigator will have a team of investigators, with subpoena power, dedicated to preventing and addressing anticompetitive practices in the meat and poultry industries and enforcing our nation’s antitrust laws. They will coordinate and act in consultation with the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission and create a new bridge between the USDA and the Department of Homeland Security to protect the continuation of the food supply and increase our national security. With a team of dedicated staff, the USDA will have the ability to deeply investigate issues facing producers, safeguard producers by enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act, and protect America’s food supply chain and national security.

Today’s Executive Order also encourages the Federal Trade Commission to limit equipment manufacturer’s ability to restrict the use of independent repair shops or do DIY repairs-often called “right to repair”-a longtime goal of Senator Tester’s. In April, Tester secured a commitment from the FTC to address the ability of consumers, in particular agricultural producers, to repair their own equipment.