Friday, October 27, 2017

Daily Yonder: Both parties to blame for failure to protect small meatpackers from corporate giants

"The U. S. Department of Agriculture announced last week that it was throwing out Obama administration rules that would have provided basic legal protections for poultry and livestock producers who are under contract with corporate meatpackers. The move illustrates the clear divisions within agricultural policy and shines a spotlight on the confusing and frustrating debate happening throughout farm country," Bryce Oates reports for The Daily Yonder. The Trump administration first delayed the implementation of the rules in March.

The Farmer Fair Practices rule would have updated how a USDA agency, the Grain Inspection and Packers Administration, handles anti-trust enforcement. That would have given small contract meatpacking outfits more power to compete with the huge agribusinesses that increasingly dominate the industry.

In what Oates calls the best analysis of the issue he's seen, The New Food Economy writes that the update to the GIPSA rules would have "made it a little easier for poultry and livestock farmers to sue processors or meatpackers over unfair treatment by updating language in the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 to clarify a stance USDA and GIPSA have long held: that farmers shouldn’t have to prove 'competitive injury' (that their buyers have done something to impact all farmers in their position, as a class) in order to pursue legal action." The rule change would have especially affected the chicken industry, where titans like Perdue and Tyson control most of the process.

Oates casts blame not only on the Trump administration, but on the Obama administration for delaying and watering down their proposals. "What is so galling is the lack of political representation on these issues by either party," he writes. "For Republicans of the current political moment, there’s an obvious hesitation to erect any rules and regulations whatsoever, even popular regulations that 'protect the little guy.' For Democrats, there is a lack of focus on actually fighting for and delivering on promises they make to family farmers."

This track record from both parties, he says, makes it easy for farmers to feel as though both parties have left them behind.

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