In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released rules that provide basic protections for livestock producers and poultry growers. These rules, known as the Farmer Fair Practices Rules, are being held up by the current administration, so we need your help to get these rules on the books! Please consider sending your comments to the USDA today.
Why are the rules important?
Family farmers and ranchers currently endure incredibly concentrated markets. In fact, just four companies control 85 percent of the beef market, 74 percent of the pork market, and more than half of the poultry market.
With just a handful of companies controlling the livestock and poultry markets, individual participants in the markets become price takers and have virtually no control over the prices they are paid or, in many cases, the way they raise their animals. As agricultural markets continue to become more consolidated, it is important for family farmers and ranchers to have protections against anti-competitive and unfair conditions.
Why were they written?
The Farmer Fair Practices Rules are a clarification of the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921, which was written to address abuses by major livestock and poultry meatpackers. The Packers and Stockyards Act prohibits unfair practices and undue preferences, but it never defined what those practices or preferences are.
So in 2008, Congress directed the USDA to clarify what constituted unfair practices and undue preferences in the Farm Bill. What followed were a series of field hearings, the release of proposed rules in 2010, and more than 60,000 public comments on the rules.
National Farmers Union and a number of other groups lobbied hard to ensure these rules contained strong and enforceable language, but the multinational meatpackers and their industry front groups fought back, lobbying Congress to block the rules. For the next six years, USDA was unable to finalize the rules due to a congressional rider, known as the GIPSA rider, which was stuck on federal appropriations bills in the dark of the night.
After more public pressure from groups like NFU, and a favorable television segment by comedian John Oliver, the GIPSA rider was excluded from the appropriations bill passed at the end of 2015.
So the USDA got to work writing new rules, and in December 2016, released the Farmer Fair Practices Rules.
What do the rules do?
The Farmer Fair Practices Rules consist of one interim final rule and two proposed rules.
The interim final rule deals primarily with the poultry industry. Currently, contract poultry growers have to prove harm for the entire $48 billion chicken industry rather than harm to themselves when seeking relief from poultry companies for abusive contract practices. This is an outrageous interpretation of the Packers and Stockyards Act. The rule would eliminate that burden so that farmers who have been wronged can sue for harm only to themselves, rather than the entire industry.
And the two proposed rules define what constitutes unfair practices and undue preferences, which was missing in the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921. These now include well-documented abuses like retaliating against a producer because they start an association of producers, or intentionally giving a contract chicken grower lower quality feed or chicks. Some poultry companies have even refused to allow their growers to witness the weighing of their birds.
How can you help?
Please consider commenting on the three Farmer Fair Practices Rules by this Friday, March 24! We recommend drafting one letter pertaining to all three rules and to submit it for each rule.
You can do this by:
- Visiting each link below
- Clicking “Comment Now”
- Typing/copying your letter in the box provided.
Interim final rule on competitive injury: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=GIPSA-2016-PSP-0009-RULEMAKING-0001
Proposed rule on unfair practices and undue preferences: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=GIPSA-2016-FGIS-0008-RULEMAKING-0001
Proposed rule on poultry grower ranking systems: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=GIPSA-2016-PSP-0010-RULEMAKING-0001
Thank you for your help in promoting fair and competitive practices in the livestock and poultry sectors!
National Farmers Union has been working since 1902 to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through advocating grassroots-driven policy positions adopted by its membership.