APNewsBreak: USDA strips down antitrust rule

By CHRISTOPHER LEONARD | December 8, 2011 | 12:05 AM EST

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture will release a new antitrust rule regulating meat companies that's stripped down from an earlier, more far-reaching proposal.

The final rule being released Thursday is far different from a sweeping proposal the Obama administration proposed last year. Meat companies strongly opposed that plan, and Congress voted last month to prohibit the USDA from implementing most of the reforms.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says he's disappointed Congress blocked most parts of the rule but that remaining provisions will help farmers.

The final version requires that meat companies allow farmers to opt out of mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts. Other measures were abandoned or changed into guidelines for the agriculture secretary to consider when judging if meat companies violate antitrust laws.