Thursday, December 15, 2016

USDA issues rules to help small livestock farmers

The Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday released its Farmer Fair Practices Rules, which are designed to protect small farmers, a USDA press release said. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, "For years, American farmers have been calling for protections against the most damaging unfair and deceptive practices confronting family farms across the country. Poultry growers in particular are vulnerable to market risks and concentration in the processor market. All too often, processors and packers wield the power and farmers carry the risk."

Included in the proposal is an interim final rule that says "it is not necessary to demonstrate that an unfair practice harms the entire market in order to prove a violation of the Packers and Stockyards Act," states USDA. "Such overly broad interpretations have put family farmers at a disadvantage for decades when pursuing their rights under the Act."

There is also a "proposed rule regarding unfair practices would clarify what GIPSA views as practices that clearly violate the Act and would establish criteria to protect the legal rights of farmers," USDA says. A third proposal "would establish criteria that GIPSA would consider in determining whether a live poultry dealer has engaged in a pattern or practice to use a poultry grower ranking system unfairly."

Industry response to the rules was mixed. Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said in a statement: "These proposed rules will strengthen GIPSA’s ability to evaluate business practices in the poultry industry and better protect individual farmers from discriminatory treatment. America’s chicken farmers have long called for greater transparency and a level playing field in our industry, and we appreciate USDA’s efforts to hold companies accountable and give farmers a voice.”

The National Pork Producers Council said the rules "would have a devastating effect because they will increase the risk of lawsuits by farmers," Dan Charles reports for NPR. The National Chicken Council and National Cattlemen's Beef Association called the rules unnecessary, Chris Clayton reports for DTN The Progressive Farmer.

The rules could be halted by the Trump administration or Congress, where reaction also was mixed, Clayton reports. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway (R-Texas) criticized the rules, while Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) "said the rules were not as strong as he wanted, but he said they were a step in the right direction."

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