The USDA could soon have a larger role in assessing the impact of agribusiness mergers, if proposals by a US senator are approved. Through a specially created panel, the department would assess anti-competitive practices and particularly focus on the impact a merger will have on family and independent farmers and their access to the marketplace.

Legislators are concerned that a wave of industry consolidation will be prompted by the recent Delaware court ruling that a merger between the US' largest meat and poultry producers IBP Inc and Tyson Foods must go ahead. This could leave farmers and consumers with less choice as competition within the agribusiness market slackens.

Currently, merger proposals are reviewed by two federal agencies, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. If the senator's proposals go ahead however, the agencies will also need to consult the USDA before a deal can be cemented.