April 18, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Paul Wolfe, 202-547-5754, PWolfe@sustainableagriculture.net
Ferd Hoefner, 202-547-5754 FHoefner@sustainableagriculture.net
Proposed GIPSA Rider Aims to Silence America’s Contract Farmers
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Speaks Out Against Anti-Farmer Maneuver
Washington, DC, April 18, 2016 – Family farmers in the contract poultry industry thought their time had finally come. After years of struggling to eke out a living without any substantive rights or protections, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is poised this year to finalize rules that would protect farmers’ basic human rights – like the right to free speech, freedom of association, right to trial by jury, and transparency in contract terms – in their dealings with large poultry companies.
Standing in the way of these farmer protections, however, is an amendment to the House Agriculture Appropriations bill that would prevent USDA from finalizing rules to secure fairness for contract producers. Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) has indicated that he will offer such an amendment (a “GIPSA Rider”) to the fiscal year (FY) 2017 House Agriculture Appropriations bill tomorrow during committee markup. The amendment has not been filed yet, but it is expected to track versions from previous years.
“The GIPSA Rider is bad for farmers, bad for consumers, and bad for the country,” said Ferd Hoefner, Policy Director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). “This blatantly anti-farmer provision has no place in the agricultural spending bill.”
GIPSA stands for the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Agency (GIPSA), the agency in charge of enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921, a law intended to make livestock and poultry markets open, transparent, and competitive, and to protect farmers and ranchers from fraudulent, deceptive and abusive practices in their dealings with the meat industry.
Recognizing the historic failure of the Packers and Stockyards Act to protect the rights of contract farmers, USDA issued regulations in the 2008 Farm Bill that would have helped to define and enforce the act. Thanks to legislative riders introduced by Congress Members allied with meat and poultry industry mega-corporations, however, the USDA has never been able to finalize those rules and truly protect the rights of contract farmers.
“For too long contract farmers have been taking on the risk of raising livestock they do not own, having no control over how the animals are raised, and working in a forced tournament system that guarantees half of them will always lose ” said Paul Wolfe, Policy Specialist for NSAC. “USDA should be given the opportunity to finish the GIPSA rules, which would finally give producers a fair chance at making a living.”
Without even having seen a formal draft of the proposed rules, the allies of big chicken have already rallied to try and deny farmers the basic rights to which any other small business owner/operator would be entitled. Examples include:
Lack of free speech, association, and transparency can lead to severe economic distress, and in some cases bankruptcy for the farmers, who often take on millions in debt to build the facilities on their farms to service these contracts. This fear of retaliation has been one of the major impediments to enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, and one of the reasons the Congress is so often able to plead ignorance to the plight of these farmers.
Recently, several appropriations committee members voiced their opposition to the introduction of a GIPSA rider in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The appropriators noted that “while regulation should be limited in the marketplace, it is critical that the playing field be level”, and urged the Secretary to finalize the GIPSA rules.
“Politically, moving forward something that eight House and Senate Agriculture appropriators have already signaled they would oppose, signals a lack of interest in actually getting the agricultural spending bill completed and signed into law this year,” said Hoefner. “The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition strongly urges appropriators to leave anti-competitive riders out of the bill and to get on with the business of appropriating.”
NSAC has joined with our allies across the country – within the farm, faith, and rural communities – to stand in opposition to the House GIPSA rider. We encourage Congress and the public to listen to the stories of the contract farmers affected by the GIPSA riders, and by sharing these stories shine a spotlight on opaque, anti-farmer business practices.
About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more: http://sustainableagriculture.net