May 29, 2014
Despite the best efforts of Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), the House Appropriations Committee voted on Thursday, May 29, to prohibit USDA from protecting livestock, swine, and poultry producers against fraudulent, deceptive, and retaliatory practices by meatpacking corporations.
Known as the GIPSA rider, this anti-farmer provision was buried deep in the FY 2015 House Agriculture Appropriations bill, which the House Appropriations Committee passed this afternoon. Recall that the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee developed and passed the bill last week. The rider is not included in the Senate’s FY 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill.
Farmers and farm organizations have for years been raising concerns about concentration in agricultural markets, and the impacts on farmers and ranchers. Congress itself included provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill requiring USDA to take action to address some of these same issues. As a result, USDA and the Department of Justice decided in 2010 to hold a series of workshops around the country to examine these issues in more detail. They heard testimony and statements from hundreds of farmers and received input from thousands of citizens about some of the anti-competitive practices taking place in agricultural markets. That same year, implementing the 2008 Farm Bill provisions and informed by the testimony from farmers around the country, USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration proposed a set of regulations to address some of problems that had been raised.
The rider contained in the FY 2015 House Agriculture Appropriations bill not only prohibits USDA from finalizing the remaining portions of the 2010 proposed rule on fair competition and contract reform; it also forces USDA to rescind the few portions of the rule that it finalized in 2011. The GIPSA rider overrides the Farm Bill and denies poultry and livestock farmers the most basic protections under the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921.
Rep. Kaptur offered two amendments this afternoon to counter the GIPSA rider language contained in the House bill. The first amendment aimed to strip the entire GIPSA rider, allowing USDA to proceed with the implementation of its proposed and finalized rules. Unfortunately, the amendment failed 18-31.
Representatives Sanford Bishop (D-GA) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) both stood up to speak in support of the Kaptur amendment. Rep. Bishop pointed to the fact that the House Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over the GIPSA issue, just finalized the 2014 Farm Bill, and that it does not include the GIPSA rider.
“Isn’t it true that the base [appropriations] bill is inconsistent with the 2014 Farm Bill,” Bishop asked Representative Steve Womack (R-AR), who represents the district where the second largest meatpacking company in the world is headquartered and who is a strong supporter of the anti-farmer rider. “Isn’t this an issue for the authorizers [Agriculture Committee] to deal with? Both the House and the Senate, not just the House, passed a farm bill that did not include this rider,” Bishop continued.
Rep. Pingree, who spoke out against the rider during Subcommittee markup last week, reinforcing Congresswoman Kaptur’s message that the rider unjustly “stops USDA from implementing the most basic protections for hardworking family farmers” against common abuses by large corporations.
Rep. Kaptur’s second amendment honed in on one specific piece of the rider that prohibits USDA from protecting livestock farmers against retaliation by meatpacking companies, if those farmers choose to speak to their Members of Congress, USDA, or others about the contract abuses that they are facing. Unfortunately, it has become very common, particularly in the poultry sector, for companies who control farmers’ contracts to retaliate against growers who in any way speak about the abuses they experience in their relationships with those companies. Similarly, growers who attempt to join together with other farmers in growers associations to ask for better treatment from their company often suffer retaliation and threats as well. Common forms of retaliation include canceled contract, delayed bird deliveries, and delivery of sick animals.
Rep. Kaptur provided two specific examples of farmers facing retaliation. Referring back to the hearings held by USDA and the Department of Justice, Kaptur noted:
One poultry farmer at the hearing recounted what happened when he contested his poultry company’s effort to add a new provision to his a contract that included a mandatory arbitration clause, which would have taken away his right to a jury trial if a dispute arose. When he took issue with the clause, the processing company refused to work with him. Absent other options, the farmer and his wife lost their farm. ‘We chose to stand up for our principles,’ the farmer, a former infantryman and pilot in Vietnam, said at the hearing. ‘We did not give up a fundamental right to access the public court … which is guaranteed by our Constitution, regardless of price. I had flown too many combat missions defending that Constitution to forfeit it. It was truly ironic that protecting one right, we lost another. We lost the right to property.’
It is also widely understood in poultry circles that farmers who dare to play leadership roles in organizing poultry grower groups often suffer retaliation. For example, a breeder hen grower in Georgia was the victim of severe retaliation by his poultry company when he tried to organize a breeder hen grower association in his area, in order to get farmers to work together in support of better contract terms. The company deliberately targeted him and delivered sick chickens to his farm. He was able to sue and years later he won his case after it was proven that the company deliberately targeted him with the bad birds because of his organizing efforts. But his victory in court paled in comparison to the loss of his farm and the loss of his family to divorce related to the stress of those years.
Rep. Kaptur requested a roll call vote, as opposed to a voice vote, so there is now a record to show which Members of Congress voted to allow meatpacking companies to retaliate against farmers if those farmers blow the whistle or try to form farmer associations. NSAC strongly commends Rep. Kaptur for standing up for the rights of family farmers who grow under contract for meatpacking companies and poultry integrators. The Congresswoman has long been a champion on this issue, and we appreciate her leadership. We also commend Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) for voting in support of Rep. Kaptur’s second amendment. Rep. Fortenberry was the lone Republican who voted to support family farmers over the interests of multinational meatpacking corporations. Unfortunately, Rep. Kaptur’s second amendment failed 20-29.
The GIPSA rider is only one piece of the comprehensive Agriculture Appropriations bill. You can read our previous posts for more information on what the House bill and the Senate bill mean for conservation, rural development, local and regional food systems, sustainable agriculture research and other NSAC priorities.
Under regular order, both the House and Senate bills would now go to each respective floor for a full-chamber vote. It is very possible that we will see that happen in the next month. However, given the departure from regular order in recent years, it is also possible that the bills will not go to the House and Senate floor as stand-alone bills, but instead be combined with other appropriations bills to be voted on as a package. Either way, NSAC will be working to ensure that the rider is not included in the final FY 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill and that sustainable agriculture funding priorities prevail.