By Leah Douglas

(Reuters) -Livestock farmers in the U.S. would have a clearer path to bringing antitrust complaints against meatpacking companies for unfair business practices under a rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday.

The proposed rule is the fourth introduced by President Joe Biden’s administration to boost competition in the highly consolidated meatpacking industry.

Earlier rules would require fairer pay to chicken farmers, enhance transparency in poultry contracts, and prohibit retaliation against chicken farmers for raising concerns about anti-competitive behavior.

The rule proposed on Tuesday would clarify how farmers and ranchers should prove they have been harmed by alleged anti-competitive behavior of meatpackers and will better enable the USDA to enforce antitrust laws, the agency said in a press release.

“Entrenched market power and the abuses that flow from it remain an obstacle to achieving lower prices for consumers and fairer practices for producers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement. “Today’s proposed rule stands for clear, transparent standards so that markets function fairly and competitively for consumers and producers alike.”

Farmers have argued that current regulations set the bar too high for proving they have been harmed by anti-competitive behavior, hindering their ability to seek recourse from USDA.

“Farmers have long deserved this certainty,” said Sarah Carden, research and policy development director for Farm Action, a farmer advocacy group.

The North American Meat Institute, a trade group, said in a statement the rule would expose meat packers to litigation and uncertainty.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Dairy cows sit on high ground after days of heavy rain in Corcoran, California, U.S., March 29, 2023.  REUTERS/David Swanson/File Photo

“Under these proposed rules, everyone loses, the livestock producer, the packer and ultimately the consumer,” said Julie Anna Potts, the group’s president and CEO, in the statement.

The proposed rule will be open to public comment for 60 days.

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