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From Antitrust Law Daily, April 10, 2017

Senator Grassley reintroduces bills to ban packer ownership of livestock, protect antitrust whistleblowers

By Jody Coultas, J.D.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) reintroduced legislation to amend the Packers and Stockyards Act, 1921, to make it unlawful for a packer to own, feed, or control livestock intended for slaughter. The bill seeks to ensure that family farmers and independent producers receive fair prices for their efforts. Grassley has introduced similar versions of the packer ban in previous Congresses. Grassley and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also reintroduced bipartisan legislation to extend whistleblower protection for employees who provide information to the Department of Justice related to criminal antitrust violations.

Agriculture bill. A press release issued by Grassley’s office notes that large packing companies in the beef, poultry, and pork industries have moved to concentrate and vertically integrate. The amount of cattle traded on the cash market declined from 52 percent in 2005 to 21 percent in 2015.

"An effective and efficient marketplace is one where packers that control all harvest capacity do not also own a majority of the animals to be processed," Grassley said. "We need a competitive marketplace in the livestock industry that delivers a fair market price to farmers. Eliminating packer ownership of livestock would be a good first step in accomplishing that goal."

Grassley’s bill (S.813) contains four exceptions to the ban for:

  1. an arrangement entered into within 7 days (excluding any Saturday or Sunday) before slaughter of the livestock by a packer, a person acting through the packer, or a person that directly or indirectly controls, or is controlled by or under common control with, the packer;
  2. a cooperative or entity owned by a cooperative, if a majority of the ownership interest in the cooperative is held by active cooperative members that own, feed, or control livestock; and provide the livestock to the cooperative for slaughter;
  3. a packer that is not subject to mandatory price reporting laws; or
  4. a packer that owns 1 livestock processing plant.

Whistleblower bill. The Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act (S.807) is aimed at protecting whistleblowers in criminal antitrust cases by prohibiting employers from retaliating against an employee who provides information to the Justice Department regarding conduct that violates the criminal antitrust laws, according to its sponsors. It would allow an employee who believes he or she is the victim of retaliation to file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor, and provides for that employee to be reinstated to their former status if the Secretary finds in their favor.

Senators Grassley and Leahy sponsored the "Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act" (S.1599) in the last Congress. While the Senate unanimously passed the bill, it was not taken up by the House. In the 113th Congress, the Senate also unanimously passed a similar version of the legislation (S. 42) but the bill was not taken up by the House.

"This legislation encourages private sector employees to disclose such criminal violations by protecting them from retaliation in the workplace for coming forward with information. It also can be a real deterrent to those who are thinking about committing fraud in the future. We’ve seen how whistleblower protections can be a real incentive to helping root out waste, fraud and abuse," Grassley said.

"Whistleblowers play an essential role in alerting the public, Congress, and law enforcement agencies to wrongdoing that directly harms consumers," Leahy said.

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