May 19, 2011
On Monday, May 29, a letter signed by 147 members of the House of Representatives was delivered to USDA Secretary Vilsack urging him to withdraw a proposed fair competition rule issued on June 22, 2010. The anti-farmer and rancher letter was sent despite containing a major factual inaccuracy that was called to the attention of the letter’s sponsors ahead of time.
For years, a small handful of giant meat packers and processors have been underpaying and unfairly treating farmers and ranchers while USDA sat by in relative silence. In the 2008 Farm Bill, though, Congress directed USDA to clarify and strengthen regulations under the Packers and Stockyards Act and other statutes.
USDA’s Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) issued the proposed rule that would rein in unfair and deceptive practices by livestock and poultry packers and processors in their dealings with farmers and rancher. The proposed rule would also increase market fairness and transparency and decrease the ability of a few large multinational corporations to manipulate prices paid to farmers and ranchers.
NSAC is not surprised to see the big meat packers and processors lobby hard against a final rule that would provide basic fairness, including fair markets and prices, to farmers and ranchers. But it is a great shame to see any member of the House of Representatives sign-on to a letter requesting yet another delaying tactic in release of the final rule.
USDA provided a 150-day comment period on the proposed rule. The agency included a preliminary economic analysis in the proposed rule and called for further information to be considered in preparing the final rule and its accompanying economic analysis. Yet, without even seeing the final rule and its economic analysis, the sign-on letter calls for withdrawal of the proposed rule.
In addition, the sign-on letter contains a glaring falsehood. It states that during the 2008 Farm Bill debates, Congress rejected a measure that would eliminate a court-fashioned requirement for individual farmers and ranchers who have been harmed in violation of the Packers and Stockyards Act to also show harm to the entire market for their products. But a measure on “competitive injury” issue was not voted on by Congress. In addition, the 2008 Farm Bill provides a directive to USDA to clarify the issue of what criteria should be applied in determining whether a violation of the Act has occurred.
It is well within the authority of USDA to provide in the proposed rule clarification to the courts that sections of the Act which have no reference to market injuries do not require farmers and ranchers to prove a competitive injury or be barred from the justice promised by Congress in the Packers and Stockyards Act. In fact, this has been the USDA consistent position over the course of many Administrations. It is also simply an untruth to maintain, as the letter signers have, that Congress voted and rejected the measure.
It has been almost three years since enactment of the 2008 Farm Bill and almost one year since the GIPSA proposed rule was issued. Our rural communities have lost thousands of farmers and ranchers who could no longer endure unfair and deceptive practices, the payment of reasonable prices only to a favored few, and the manipulation of livestock and poultry markets. Members of Congress should stand up for the requirements of basic fair dealing provided to farmers and ranchers in the GIPSA proposed rule and urge USDA to issue a final rule without undue delay.
Categories: Competition & Anti-trust