USDA and state attorneys general are tag-teaming grocery price gougers

Photo (c) Peter Cade - Getty Images

More choice, more competition and lower prices are the hoped-for results

In order to enhance competition and protect consumers – especially at the grocery store – the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and attorneys general in 31 states and the District of Columbia have formed a partnership to tackle anti-competitive practices.

The goal of the initiative is to put pressure on the food industry to prevent price gouging and expand choices.

The partnership was announced at the White House Competition Council meeting, which marked President Biden's Executive Order on Promoting Competition's second anniversary.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to addressing corporate consolidation and its negative effects on the U.S. economy, such as unfair competition and increased prices,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. 

“By placing necessary resources where they are needed most and helping states identify and address anticompetitive and anti-consumer behavior, in partnership with federal authorities, through these cooperative agreements we can ensure a more robust and competitive agricultural sector.”

In addition to the food segment, the Biden administration also announced that it will strengthen the enforcement of laws prohibiting anti-competitive mergers in housing and healthcare.

Boots on the ground can make a difference

Having recognized how grocery prices affect consumers' perceptions of inflation, the Biden administration has prioritized food prices in its efforts to lower sky-high prices.

Having the White House and USDA in concert on this gives the partnership some serious muscle, but the real strength will be in the hands of the state attorneys general. 

Ultimately, this will result in fairer, more competitive markets and more resilient supply chains. Because those officials will have boots closer to the ground where consumer issues are happening, they should be able to assess situations quicker and improve coordination between federal and state agriculture and competition authorities.

However, the agency has picked a fight with a very formidable opponent. A joint investigation published by the Guardian and Food and Water Watch suggested that a handful of global giants control every single link of the food supply chain – all the way from the moment a seed is planted to when its bi-product shows up in a food product. 

“And that is not good news for consumers in terms of choice and real competition on prices, or for small and medium-sized farmers given little choice on what they grow or which animals they raise, while food industry workers face low pay and high risks,” the authors of The Guardian’s study said.

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