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Taking Matters into Their Own Hands: Farmers Urge USDA to Ensure Rights in Upcoming Rulemaking

July 19, 2019


Fly-in participants, RAFI-USA staff, NSAC staff, and CCAR staff. Photo credit: RAFI-USA.

Poultry, hog, and cattle growers from across the country stepped off their farms and stood up this week to consolidation, grower exploitation, and market manipulation by large meatpackers and processors (also called integrators). Meeting in Washington D.C. earlier this week, growers traveled from North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, West Virginia, Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota as part of Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA), the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), and the Government Accountability Project (GAP)’s Stand With Family Farmers campaign fly-in.

The Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform (CCAR), of which the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is a member, also supported the fly-in’s success and played an integral role advocating for family farmers throughout a turbulent history with the Packers & Stockyards Act that governs this industry.

During this week’s fly-in, current and former growers shared personal testimony of unfair practices and corporate retaliation at a press conference and a bi-cameral congressional briefing hosted by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH). In addition to the briefings, the farmers met with their congressional members, 2020 presidential candidate offices, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and House Agriculture Committee staff, urging them to use and support the use of the upcoming USDA rule on undue preference to finally address the preferential treatment and exploitation of chicken, hog, and beef growers. 

Fly-In participants meeting with Representative Kaptur. Photo credit: RAFI-USA

What Family Farmers Are Facing

Former poultry grower and Alabama law-enforcement officer Anthony Grigsby called out the “corporate bullying, intimidation, and a mafia-like mentality” the corporate meatpackers used to retaliate against his family after he began to inquire about docked paychecks and sick chicks that were delivered to his farm from the integrator.

Grigsby mentioned that he’s not the only farmer being trapped in vicious contracts:

I have been contacted by many farmers saying they wish they could say or do something but they’re too afraid because they see what’s been done to me… The undue preference rule in the Packers and Stockyards Act was written for the American Farmer to simply get a fair shake. Right now, chicken farmers are given a false choice: do what we say or don’t; if you don’t want to do what we say, then do something else for a living. But not doing what they say means you won’t receive chickens again, you won’t be able to make your mortgage payment, and you’ll lose your farm – just like we did.

— Anthony Grigsby, former poultry grower
Stand with Family Farmers Congressional Press Briefing. Photo credit: RAFI-USA.

While poultry integrators have been the most aggressive with predatory tactics as the market has consolidated, hog and cattle sectors are not far behind. While in DC for this week’s fly-in, cattle producer, former Nebraska state senator, and OCM board member Al Davis warned:

Over the last few decades, a functioning cattle market has simply disappeared…The four largest meatpackers control over 82 percent of the market today. Over 75 percent of cattle killed today are controlled by the meatpackers through forward contracting agreements, while 14 years ago that figure was roughly 50-50. The existing trendline indicates the market will soon cease to exist and the remaining leverage held by the producer will be gone.

Al Davis, former state senator, cattle producer

In his testimony, Davis went on to say:

…something must be done if we want to preserve the family farm for the family and not for multinational nameless entities whose only goal is to accumulate trillions of dollars at the expense of hard-working Americans whose love for their livestock, their lifestyle, and their community cannot be questioned.

Take Action

USDA is releasing a proposed rule later this summer or early fall that will address the issue of undue preference that the growers bravely spoke on during this week’s fly-in. This rule is a long overdue piece of the original Farmer Fair Practice Rules that support the rights of livestock and poultry growers against powerful meatpackers and processors.

Included in the Stand with Farm Families campaign is a petition that will be delivered to USDA to show support for a robust rule that offers adequate protection for growers. The petition requests that four principles be included in the rule:

  • Ensure freedom for growers to speak the truth;
  • Ensure freedom for growers to join together in producer associations;
  • Ensure protection from corporations enforcing a self-serving system; and
  • Contain clear criteria with detailed, specific rules that adequately cover different types of livestock, and are suitable for the future.

“The Packers and Stockyards Act was passed in 1921. We have had this law on our books for close to a century now, it is nothing new,” said Craig Watts, former North Carolina poultry grower. “So this summer we call on USDA to do its job, and ensure that farmers’ basic rights are protected.”

NSAC stands firmly with those speaking out against the unfair and retaliatory efforts of integrators that harm family farmers and calls upon USDA to include the above principles in the rulemaking for comment.

You too can show your support by signing on to this petition.

Additional information on the upcoming rule and advocacy opportunities can be found here. NSAC will also publish a detailed analysis of the final rule once it is released.


Categories: Carousel, Competition & Anti-trust


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