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Boswell holds off on offering competition amendments

Agriculture.com Staff 05/25/2007 @ 2:30pm

Representative Leonard Boswell decided against offering most of his Competitive and Fair Agricultural Markets Act when a subcommittee he leads began working on livestock issues for the next Farm Bill on Thursday of this week.

"I was informed the entire minority was opposed to it, plus a couple of others," Boswell said in a telephone interview with Agriculture Online Friday.

Boswell, a member of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry, introduced legislation that would ban mandatory arbitration between producers and the vertically integrated companies whose animals they raise.

The bill, H.R. 2135, would ban unfair marketing practices in the livestock industry and strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act. Boswell did get one part of his bill approved as an amendment to the committee's version of the livestock title of the next farm bill.

Some producer advocates contend that making arbitration mandatory limits the grower's rights to taking legal action in a dispute with a company.

In a statement from Boswell's office he said, "Many say that arbitration can be a useful tool to settle disputes. I don't disagree; however I do not believe that it should be mandated. My amendment requires it to be voluntarily agreed upon by both parties. We must ensure that producers have the option."

Boswell said that he hasn't decided the next step for his bill. He may try to get more of it passed as amendments when the full Agriculture Committee approves that part of the farm bill. Or he may wait until the House and Senate have written separate bills and are meeting in conference to put together a final draft.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate and has strong support from Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin.

According to Boswell, H.R. 2135, will improve enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act and Agricultural Fair Practices Act by designating a Special Counsel on competition matters whose sole responsibility will be to investigate and prosecute violations on competition matters. The bill also strengthens producer protections by making it easier for them to prove adverse affects on competition.

This bill is companion legislation to Senator Tom Harkin's bill, S.622, which was introduced in February.

The bill also makes the following changes to the Agricultural Fair Practices Act:

• Prohibits unfair, deceptive, unjustly discriminatory and anti-competitive practices by a person that affects the marketing, receiving, purchasing, sale or contracting of crops.

• Provides needed contract protections to ensure that the production contract clearly spells out what is required of the producer.

• Prevents discrimination against producers belonging to an organization or cooperative by removing a disclaimer clause allowing processors, handlers, or contractors to refuse to do business with producers just because they belong to such organizations.

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