Farmer Fair Practices

In a world where packers own or control all the livestock, there is no place for family farmers and ranchers. Rural communities suffer another economic loss and all of us suffer the destruction of our natural environment. This must change.

A handful of corporations dominate the American food system. The rapid trend toward vertical integration, especially in hog production, further exacerbates the economic concentration in packing, processing and production. As the livestock sector has become extremely concentrated and integrated, packers and processors increasingly control production at all stages. Packer ownership of livestock (vertical integration) is driving the economic nightmare and environmental catastrophe of concentrated, industrial livestock production.

Opportunities to fight for family farmers in 2019

In 2019, USDA has promised to release a rule protecting contract livestock and poultry producers from retaliation against them by a packing or processing company. Fear of this sort of retaliation is a major problem for many of these producers. This rule offers a major opportunity to tell USDA how to create greater fairness in poultry and livestock contracts. 

Your voice is needed during this important window. When the rule is released, would you consider submitting a comment to USDA asking that they strengthen protections for contract livestock and poultry producers? It is very easy, and can be done anonymously.

When the rule is released, the Center for Rural Affairs will share a comment template you can draw from to write your own comment for USDA. We’ll also post our comments we send to USDA.

In the meantime, this piece from our partner organization Rural Advancement Foundation International has some useful background on the topic.

Never submitted a comment before? We’ll also post instructions about how to submit a comment – which you can do anonymously.

Recent history

A law has been on the books since 1921 that supposedly provides legal protections to prevent processors from impacting the market to this degree. However, the law was vague enough that for decades USDA did little to protect producers. The 2008 Farm Bill tightened up the law and required USDA to increase protections for producers.

In preparation for increasing these protections, USDA held listening sessions in 2010 with farmers across the country. Farmers, at great personal risk, described a number of ways the meat processing companies write unfair contracts, require expensive facility upgrades, and punish them when they complain.

USDA then released several draft, or “proposed” rules to address these and similar concerns and put in place protections for farmers when doing business with meat processors. The backlash from the processing companies was severe, and Congress stepped in. For several years after, Congress forbade USDA from moving forward and finalizing the rules. USDA’s hands were tied.

In 2016, Congress lifted that restriction. In December 2016, USDA published three rules to provide increased protections for farmers. Another piece on these three rules can be found at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's blog