Corporate farming notes: farmers deserve fairness in the livestock industry

You may have heard that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) now functions under the purview of the Agricultural Marketing Service, but that’s not all. According to USDA, the rulemaking process for Farmer Fair Practices Rules will re-open in spring 2019. 

Originally introduced by USDA’s GIPSA, the Farmer Fair Practices Rules would have afforded contract producers in the poultry and livestock industries with basic fairness protections. 

In brief, the rules would have: 

  • Allowed producers to protect their rights without having to prove that a processor’s actions hurt the entire livestock industry;
  • Provided protections for producers, should processors limit producers’ legal rights in livestock or poultry contracts, or require unreasonable capital investment in their operations; and
  • Required poultry processors to use greater fairness and transparency when purchasing birds from several producers.

The rules were released in late 2016 by the Obama administration, but were shelved by the Trump administration. A recent lawsuit filed by the Organization for Competitive Markets encouraged USDA to re-open the rulemaking process, giving farmers, ranchers, and organizations representing them the opportunity for their voices to be heard. 

For decades, the Center has advocated for fairness in the livestock industry—most recently supporting the rules by submitting comments to USDA in March 2017. 

As the agriculture industry continues to become more consolidated, producers deserve protection from anti-competitive and unfair treatment. Poor policy has allowed a small number of powerful corporations to dominate the poultry and livestock industries. They control the industry from top to bottom, often dictating the price individual producers are paid and how they will raise their poultry and livestock.

Without common sense regulations in place to promote fairness in the agriculture industry, the livelihoods of America’s family farmers and ranchers will continue to deteriorate at the hands of big agribusiness.

Update: In late December 2018, a U.S. Circuit Court found USDA’s withdrawal of GIPSA rules legal. The Court stated that USDA was in full compliance with the 2008 farm bill mandate. In brief, the Court decided that it is Congress’ responsibility to determine if the farm bill mandate has been “unreasonably delayed.” For more information, you can review the ruling here.