The Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment applauds the new Farmer Fair Practices Rules released last week by the USDA’s Grain Inspections, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) as an important and positive step in defending family farms and independent livestock producers against the massive and growing corporate concentration in the packing industry.
A statement released by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) blasting these rules, which clearly benefit independent hog producers, displays how clearly the NPPC stands on the side of corporate packers and works against the interests of independent livestock producers.
It is well known to independent livestock producers that concentration in the packing industry has restricted their access to markets and crippled their power to negotiate over fair prices and standards.
“It used to be that the packer called me to bid on my pigs. Now I have to call the packer, and the way they cut contracts I never know what price and other advantages they are giving the biggest operations or anyone else,” said Joel Penner, a Land Stewardship Project member and independent pork producer in Butterfield, Minn. “It isn’t a free market anymore, just complete packer control where they are driving prices and giving preference to the integrators.”
The three rules put forward by USDA are: 1) an interim final rule that specifies that farmers do not have to prove harm to competition in the entire industry sector in order to bring a case against unfair practices they experience from a packer, 2) a proposed rule containing criteria GIPSA would use to judge the fairness of a poultry grower ranking system (aka tournament system) used to calculate farmer payment, and 3) a proposed rule that defines under the Packers and Stockyards Act what entails “undue or unreasonable preference” exhibited by a packer in relationships with certain producers over others.
The new GIPSA rules are an important step in addressing the corporate control of the industry by giving independent producers grounds to prove and fight against the unfair practices they have been subject to for years. The standards these rules replace required independent livestock producers to prove injury to the whole livestock sector when they were treated unfairly in order to have a cause of action. This unreasonable standard gave grossly unfair advantage to the meatpacking industry.
“What we want as independent farmers is fair treatment and payment and this puts our government on our side. The NPPC statement about USDA punishing rural people is outrageous. People want a fair shake—they don’t want special deals for some and nothing for the rest of us. These actions are about balancing the scales – less undue preference, more fairness and transparency,” said John Harter, Dakota Rural Action Board Chairperson and livestock producer, Winner, SD.
The new GIPSA rules were directed to be issued by the 2008 Farm Bill, which was passed by the U.S. Congress. The interim rule and the two proposed rules will be subject to a 60-day comment period. The USDA issued these proposed rules as Congress intended in order to address the larger problem independent producers face because of corporate concentration in the packing industry.
“Corporate Control of our markets, less competition, and packers that show undue preference to their corporate friends, drives out independent family farmers and hurts consumers and rural communities. Giving independent producers a more level playing field in fighting unfair corporate practices is good for everyone. Opposition by the NPPC, the NCBA, corporate meatpackers, and other Washington insiders shows how they are only representing the packing industry and are in opposition to independent family farmers and rural communities,” said Darvin Bentlage an independent cattle producer from Barton County Missouri and a board member of MRCC.
The Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment is working to change federal policy that props up corporate-backed factory farms and fuels corporate concentration in the livestock industry. Member organizations include Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Land Stewardship Project (MN), Dakota Rural Action (SD), Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Food & Water Watch and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.