New Rule Falls Short for Independent Farmers
Farmers & Ranchers Speak Out
On Dec. 8, 2011, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the publication of the long-awaited Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule. The final version is a significant departure from the comprehensive draft initially proposed in June 2010, which addressed a range of agricultural marketing and contracting practices that favor large meat processors and producers to the detriment of small and midsize family farm operators.
“Independent family farmers have long reported that smaller operators are routinely squeezed out by discriminatory pricing, unfair contract stipulations, collusion among large meat packers to distort prices, and retaliatory actions against individual growers and ranchers,” explained Karen Steuer director of government relations for the Pew Environment Group
Although the rule takes a step in the right direction, it is a far cry from the protections that many farmers in small and midsize operations had anticipated when the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Justice initiated a series of national workshops in 2010 on competition in the agricultural industry.
In his announcement, Vilsack said the “targeted protections” would help “provide more fairness and transparency in the marketplace” and noted that the Agriculture Department's plans to seek more comments on the rule had been blocked by a congressional rider attached to the fiscal 2012 agricultural appropriations measure. Farm advocates who had backed the broader reforms and urged the Administration to finalize the process before passage of a congressional rider vowed to continue fighting to level the playing field dominated by big agriculture interests.
The scaled-back rule addresses several aspects of potentially harmful contracting practices in animal agriculture by:
- Limiting the extent to which large meat processors can demand new capital expenditures by growers.
- Clarifying the right of farmers to opt out of costly arbitration proceedings.
- Compelling meat processors to provide reasonable notice to poultry farmers when placement of birds will be delayed.
- Establishing certain legal and procedural protections for growers involved in breach of contract disputes.
These safeguards may help to curb the most egregious cases of unfair practices by large meat production companies, but much more needs to be done to ensure that big animal agriculture is regulated in a way that ensures the best results for farmers, consumers, and the animals themselves.