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U.S. farm group seeks stronger antitrust action with new campaign

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An aerial view shows field workers picking vegetables on a farm in Oxnard, California

(This September 22 corrects party affiliation of Senator Jon Tester in paragraph 7)

(Reuters) - The National Farmers Union, the nation’s second-largest farm group, said on Wednesday it is launching a campaign to expose the negative effects of consolidation in the agriculture industry on family farms and rural towns.

The campaign, which it said will include a public relations blitz and lobbying, is part of an effort to push Washington to crack down on monopolistic behavior in the industry as lawmakers propose legislation to bring more price and market transparency to highly consolidated farm markets.

Meat companies have faced scrutiny for their market power, which critics say has allowed them to buy at low prices from small farm suppliers, who have few other options to sell to, and then make big profits on the retail market.

The Department of Justice is conducting an investigation into alleged price-fixing by big meat companies like Koch Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride, which has resulted in several indictments.

NFU president Rob Larew expressed optimism that the Biden administration would act.

“We have a president who is committed to taking on the challenge of fighting consolidation in agriculture,” Larew said at a press conference launching the campaign.

Democrat Montana Senator Jon Tester and Democrat Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison attended the event.

In his July executive order on competition, President Joe Biden directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to better enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act, a century-old law regulating meat industry competition.

The White House also recently attributed higher meat prices to “a lack of competition.”

The North American Meat Institute, which represents packers who control 95% of U.S. meat processing, denies that packer concentration is related to rising meat prices.

(Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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