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Booker, Tester Reintroduce Bill to Halt Ag Mergers Immediately, Indefinitely

Tester joins effort to protect farmers and ranchers by stemming rising tide of corporate consolidation; Bill endorsed by more than 200 farm, food, rural, and consumer advocacy organizations

May 22, 2019
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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Jon Tester (D-MT) today reintroduced a bill to place an immediate moratorium on acquisitions and mergers in the food and agriculture sector. The moratorium would be in place until Congress passes comprehensive legislation addressing the problem of market concentration in the agricultural sector. The bill was introduced in the House by Representatives by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI). It is supported by more than 200 farm, food, rural, and consumer advocacy organizations. The Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act was originally introduced by Booker last August and called for an 18-month moratorium on mergers and acquisitions; this year's updated version calls for an indefinite halt. In addition to the indefinite moratorium, the bill would set-up a commission to study how to strengthen antitrust oversight of the farm and food sectors and publish recommended improvements to merger enforcement and antitrust rules. "Our agriculture and food sector have reached alarming levels of corporate concentration - today a small number of giant companies control every link of our food chain," Booker said. "For instance, four companies control as much as 90 percent of the global grain market, and the top four beef packers in the United States now control 85 percent of the beef market." "These excessive levels of concentration and market power are devastating our independent family farmers and ranchers and hollowing out the rural communities in which they live. Farmers and ranchers are being forced to sell into ever more concentrated marketplaces that unfairly reduce the prices they receive for their crops and livestock, and unfairly increase the cost of inputs. In 1950, a farmer would get 41 cents from every retail dollar for the products he sold; today that portion has plummeted to 15 cents." "This must change. It's time to restore competition to the marketplace, so that our farmers and ranchers can once again have the opportunity to share in the prosperity they help create." "Consolidation is one of the greatest threat to rural America," Tester said. "Less competition means higher prices and fewer choices for small family farmers as they struggle to make ends meet. This bill will help put family farmers back in control of their futures by improving access to a competitive marketplace. Rural America cannot afford to see multi-national corporations put family farms out of business." "Out-of-control consolidation has enabled big agricultural firms to control prices at every stage of the food chain, from farming to distribution, and Congress must do more to allow local farmers and food systems to be competitive, while establishing greater market transparency for the American consumer," Pocan said. "Today, corporate profits are soaring, but many middle-class families, farmers, and food workers continue to struggle. Establishing a moratorium on ag-mergers will not only strengthen our antitrust laws, but it will also expand economic security and opportunity to more of our communities." "For too long, Washington D.C. has turned its back on its responsibility to ensure our economy works on behalf of the people and not corporate monopolies," Joe Maxwell, a fourth-generation hog farmer and the Executive Director of the Organization for Competitive Markets, said. "It is only through fair and open competitive markets that our economy can deliver an equitable and inclusive prosperity for all individuals who through their work and investment build the prosperity that is America. Organization for Competitive Markets applauds Senators Booker and Tester for their courage, vision, and leadership in filing this imperative piece of legislation." Full text of the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act is here. Background on Booker's work fighting anticompetitive behavior: Booker has been a fierce advocate in the Senate for cracking down on monopolistic corporate practices that hurt consumers and workers. Last year, he introduced the Worker Dividend Act, targeting the increasing trend of corporations using profits for stock buybacks instead of using them to raise wages for workers. He has also introduced legislation to crack down on collusive "no poaching" clauses that are often used by large franchisors to prohibit franchisees from hiring each otherĂ¢??s workers (the End Employer Collusion Act). In large part due to their efforts, several fast-food chains have announced plans to end such clauses. In 2017, Booker introduced a bill targeting companies that outsource much of their labor costs to contractors and temp workers rather than hiring direct employees. That year he was also one of the first lawmakers to press antitrust regulators on corporate concentration and the increasing trend of "monopsony" power, which limits worker mobility and depresses wages. Shortly after introducing the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act last year, Booker spoke about the bill at a conference hosted by the Open Markets Institute on anticompetitive practices and the declining right to compete. Background on Booker's work fighting for family farmers and ranchers: As Mayor of Newark, Booker saw first-hand how our broken food system harmed local residents, as large sections of Newark were essentially "food deserts" where communities had no access to healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. Upon joining the Senate and hearing from family farmers and ranchers from New Jersey and beyond, Booker saw how the same food system that was harming families in Newark was also hurting family farmers and ranchers around the country. Beginning in 2016, Booker introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) to reform commodity checkoff programs. These programs have received criticism for a lack of transparency, apparent conflicts of interest, misuse of funding, and anticompetitive behavior, all of which harms the family farmers and ranchers who are forced to pay into these programs. Booker and Lee have introduced the bill each session of Congress. During the Farm Bill debate in the Senate last year, Booker introduced amendments to protect contract farmers from retaliation from the large, vertically-integrated agribusiness firms that will often punish the farmers if they speak to their Members of Congress or USDA officials, and to require the large integrators to provide more transparency in their payments to contract farmers. Booker spoke about these issues on the Senate floor, and, in August, he introduced the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act.