June 8, 2017
The deadline to submit your individual or organization’s comments in support of the Farmer Fair Practices Interim Final Rule (aka the “competitive injury rule”) is Monday, June 12. The Farmer Fair Practices Rules are a critical set of changes that would bring more fairness and equity to the contract agriculture system by allowing the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) to better protect contract farmers.
The interim final rule (IFR) currently up for comment would bring much needed clarification to the contract agriculture system by underscoring that farmers can seek and secure remediation if they have been made to suffer an injury or abuse by their employer (aka the corporate integrator). Currently farmers seeking justice against abusive practices routinely have to prove that harm has been done to the whole industry in order to successfully argue that they have been harmed by the actions of an integrator or meat packer. This rule is needed to level the playing field and allow farmers to seek legal remediation for harms done against them by corporate packers and integrators.
The deadline for submitting comments is very soon: June 12, 11:59 pm. Submitting a comment is very simple, however, and we encourage everyone who wants to support family farmers to weigh in!
USDA has offered four options for answering the question in the notice, but there are only really two options – allow the interim final rule to go into effect or not.
We at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) will be submitting comments in favor of option 1, allowing the IFR to become effective. Every citizen deserves the right to seek a remedy when they have been harmed, and farmers need the IFR to become final a.s.a.p. Any further delay of this rule simply gives corporate packers and integrators more time to try and stifle farmers and their advocates through backdoor policy riders in appropriations bills or through other nefarious methods.
How to Comment
There are four easy steps to commenting:
How the IFR Helps Contract Farmers
The IFR on competitive injury confirms what previous Republican and Democratic Administrations have held, and what the underlying law plainly says: that the Packers and Stockyards Act does not require a showing of competitive injury to the industry in order for there to be a violation with respect to an individual farmer.
Requiring proof of competitive injury would mean that meat and poultry farmers would have to show that injury had been caused to the whole industry in order to make a case against fraudulent or deceptive business practice perpetrated against them by their employers. This is akin to having to prove that the entire housing market in your state was harmed by someone setting your house on fire in order to win a court case against the arsonist. Not only is this a ludicrous standard that no one should have to meet in order to see justice served, it is not written anywhere in the law.
How We Got Here
The current open comment period is a result of the April 12 2017, Federal Register Notice delaying the effective date of the Farmer Fair Practices IFR on competitive injury.
While the Packers and Stockyards Act is intended to rein in abuses by corporate meatpacking companies, the lack of enforcement authority given to the agency charged with implementing the act (USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration) has made the law largely toothless. USDA has tried over the last several years to overhaul these rules so that they are more reasonable and equitable, but has been thwarted by congressional appropriators’ use of backdoor policy riders.
2016 was the first year that no policy rider was attached to stop the FFPR (aka the “GIPSA Rules) in either the House or the Senate appropriations bills, and thus the rules were finally allowed to move forward. Just when it seemed that America’s farmers would finally see some much-needed relief, however, the Trump administration issued an executive order (January 2017) delaying all pending final rules and the future of FFPR was once again uncertain.
The executive order delayed the FFPR by 60 days, and effectively extended the final comment period. On April 12, USDA issued another delay for the IFR, which extended the effectiveness date until October 19, 2017. Click here to comment now ahead of the Monday deadline. You can also visit our previous blog posts for more information on livestock competition issues.
Categories: Competition & Anti-trust