USDA Livestock Marketing Competition Rule Gets Broad Support

Despite a tepid response from the Senate Agriculture Committee, and actual hostility in the House, 141 agriculture organizations (see list below) signed a letter in support of USDA's new livestock marketing competition rule (also known as GIPSA), and delivered it to legislators on Thursday, April 21st, 2011. The content of the letter is as follows: As a result of rapid consolidation and vertical integration, the livestock and poultry markets of this nation have reached a point where anti-competitive practices dominate, to the detriment of producers and consumers. Numerous economic studies in recent years have demonstrated the economic harm of current market structures and practices, and have called for greater enforcement of existing federal laws in order to restore competition to livestock and poultry markets. Until recently, Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have largely ignored these trends. Fortunately, Congress included language in the 2008 Farm Bill to require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to write regulations, using its existing Packers and Stockyards Act authorities, to begin to restore fairness and competition in livestock and poultry markets. On June 22, 2010, the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Agency (GIPSA) issued proposed rules to implement the 2008 Farm Bill mandates, and to address related anticompetitive practices in the livestock and poultry industries. These reforms are long overdue and begin to respond to the criticisms by farm groups, consumer groups, the Government Accountability Office and USDA’s Inspector General about USDA’s past lack of enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act. The proposed GIPSA rules define and clarify terms in the Act in order to make enforcement more effective, and to provide clarity to all players in livestock and poultry markets.

The Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 makes it unlawful for packers, swine contractors, and live poultry dealers to engage in any “unfair, unjustly discriminatory, or deceptive practice or device,” or to “make or give any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person or locality in any respect, or subject any particular person or locality to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage in any respect.” The ambiguity of these terms has resulted in uncertainty in the marketplace and hindered enforcement of the Act. Key provisions of the proposed GIPSA rules would: • Provide contract growers with commonsense protections when making expensive investments in facilities on their farms to meet the packer or poultry company requirements; • Provide growers, farmers, and ranchers with access to the information necessary to make wise business decisions regarding their operations; • Require transparency and eliminate deception in the way packers, swine contractor and poultry companies pay farmers; • Eliminate collusion between packers in auction markets; • Provide clarity about the types of industry practices the agency will consider to be unfair, unjustly discriminatory, or when certain practices give unreasonable preference or advantage. These are all terms used in the existing statute, which have never been adequately defined; • Prohibit retaliation by packers, swine contractors or poultry companies against farmers for speaking about the problems within industry or joining with other farmers to voice their concerns and seek improvements. Currently, many farmers are often retaliated against economically for exercising these legal rights; • Allow premiums to be paid to livestock producers who produce a premium product, but requires the packer or swine contractors to keep records to detail why they provide certain pricing and contract terms to certain producers; • Reduce litigation in the industry by eliminating the ambiguity in interpretation of the terms of the Packers and Stockyards Act. Such ambiguity leads to litigation as farmers and packers seek court action to clarify the intent of the Act. GIPSA has received approximately 60,000 comments on the proposed rule during the five-month public comment period that ended in November 22, of 2010. USDA is in the process of analyzing those comments, and providing the in-depth cost-benefit analysis necessary before issuing the final rule. Because of the great importance of this rule to livestock and poultry producers and consumers, and the large volume of misinformation about the rule perpetuated by livestock and poultry trade associations and packer-producer groups, the undersigned organizations are writing to reiterate our strong support for the GIPSA rule and for its swift publication in final form. We urge your support for the GIPSA rulemaking process, and its efforts to restore fairness and competition in our nation’s livestock and poultry markets. The letter was signed by the following organizations: Agriculture and Land Based Training Association (CA) Alabama Contract Poultry Growers Association Alliance for a Sustainable Future (PA) Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO) -MT Ambler Environmental Advisory Council American Agriculture Movement American Corn Growers Association American Federation of Government Employees (AFL-CIO), Local 3354, USDA-St. Louis (representing Rural Development and Farm Loan employees in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas) American Grassfed Association American Raw Milk Producers Pricing Association Ashtabula-Lake-Geauga County Farmers Union BioRegional Strategies Buckeye Quality Beef Association (Ohio) C.A.S.A. del Llano (TX) California Dairy Campaign California Farmers Union California Food & Justice Coalition Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Cattle Producers of Louisiana Cattle Producers of Washington Center for Celebration of Creation Center for Food Safety Center for Rural Affairs Chemung County Church Women United (NY) Chemung County Council of Churches (NY) Chemung County Council of Women (NY) Church Women United of Chemung County (NY) Church Women United of New York State Citizens for Sanity.Com, Inc. Citizens for Sludge-Free Land Colorado Independent CattleGrowers Association Community Alliance for Global Justice Community Farm Alliance (Kentucky) Community Food Security Coalition Contract Poultry Growers Association of the Virginias Court St Joseph #139, Corning/Elmira, Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Corning, NY Crawford Stewardship Project Cumberland Counties for Peace & Justice Dakota Resource Council Dakota Rural Action Davidson College Office of Sustainability Ecological Farming Association Endangered Habitats League Family Farm Defenders Farm Aid Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance Farmworker Association of Florida Fay-Penn Economic Development Council Federation of Southern Cooperatives Food & Water Watch Food Chain Workers Alliance Food Democracy Now! Food for Maine's Future Gardenshare: Healthy Farms, Healthy Food, Everybody Eats Georgia Poultry Justice Alliance Grassroots International Heartland Center / Office of Peace and Justice for the Diocese of Gary, Indiana and the Integrity of Creation Hispanic Organizations Leadership Alliance Idaho Rural Council Illinois Stewardship Alliance Independent Beef Association of North Dakota (I-BAND) Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Iowa Farmers Union Island Grown Initiative Izaak Walton League Kansas Cattlemen’s Association Kansas Farmers Union Kansas Rural Center Ladies of Charity of Chemung County (NY) Land Stewardship Project Main Street Opportunity Lab Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns Michael Fields Agricultural Institute Michigan Farmers Union Michigan Land Trustees Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance Midwest Environmental Advocates Midwest Organic Dairy Producers Association Minnesota Farmers Union Missionary Society of St. Columban Mississippi Livestock Markets Association Missouri Farmers Union Missouri Rural Crisis Center National Catholic Rural Life Conference National Family Farm Coalition National Farmers Organization National Farmers Union National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Nebraska Farmers Union Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society Nebraska Wildlife Federation Network for Environmental & Economic Responsibility New England Small Farm Institute Nonviolent Economics North Carolina Contract Poultry Growers Association Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance Northeast Organic Farming Association - NY Northeast Organic Farming Association, Interstate Council Northern Plains Resource Council Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Ohio Environmental Stewardship Alliance Ohio Farmers Union Oregon Livestock Producers Association Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility Oregon Rural Action Organic Consumers Association Organic Farming Research Foundation Organic Seed Alliance Organization for Competitive Markets Partnership for Earth Spirituality Past Regents Club, Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Diocese of Rochester, NY PCC Natural Markets Pennsylvania Farmers Union Pennypack Farm and Education Center (PA) Pesticide Action Network North America Pomona Grange #1, Chemung County NY Powder River Basin Resource Council (WY) R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Rural Advancement Foundation International - USA (RAFI-USA) Rural Coalition Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia Slow Food USA South Dakota Livestock Auction Markets Association South Dakota Stockgrowers Association St John the Baptist Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order, Elmira, NY Sustain LA Taos County Economic Development Corporation Texas Farmers Union The Cornucopia Institute Tilth Producers of Washington Trappe Landing Farm & Native Sanctuary Veteran Grange #1118, Chemung County, NY Virginia Association for Biological Farming Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) WhyHunger Women, Food and Agriculture Network

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