NSAC's Blog

House Committee Votes to Strip Protections for Contract Farmers

April 19, 2016

House Appropriations Committee, 2016.

House Appropriations Committee, 2016.

Today, April 19, the House Appropriations Committee convened to debate and pass the House Agriculture Appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2017. This bill funds the major programs and functions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and while the job of the appropriations committee is traditionally only to allocate funds, the Committee has increasingly taken liberties (through the use of policy riders) that have dramatically shaped or reversed policies established through authorizing legislation and subsequent rulemaking. Increasingly, a great deal of time is spent in Committee markup of the spending bill debating policy riders rather than spending decisions.

You can visit our previous post for a full breakdown of the bill as it stood before today’s debate by the full House Appropriations Committee. Most of the bill has remained unchanged since it was released last week.

Amendments During Full Committee Consideration

Farmer ProtectionsWe are deeply disturbed by the passage of an amendment (the “GIPSA rider”) by Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) to prohibit USDA from protecting poultry, pork, and cattle farmers against anticompetitive, deceptive, fraudulent, retaliatory and other abusive business practices by multi-national meat processing companies. The amendment faced strong bipartisan opposition, but narrowly passed by a vote of 26-24 after an initial “no” vote was changed to “yes” at the last minute.

We thank Representatives Farr (D-CA), Pingree (D-ME), Kaptur (D-OH), and Bishop (D-GA) for speaking in opposition to this anti-farmer amendment.

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 meat and poultry processing companies. The Harris rider, if included in final funding legislation for FY 2017, would tie USDA’s hands entirely, preventing it from implementing even the most basic farmer protections.

The amendment was opposed by NSAC, National Farmers Union, Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform, and American Farm Bureau Federation.

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.

Unlike any previous GIPSA riders, the Harris rider would not only prevent USDA from implementing provisions from 2008 Farm Bill, but also protections from the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 itself.

The Harris rider undermines a variety of core farmer protections, including: 

  • Protection Against Retaliation – Regulation to make it a prohibited practice under the Packers and Stockyards Act for meatpackers and poultry integrators to retaliate against farmers for exercising their rights to free speech and/or free association.
  • Payment Transparency – Regulation to require meatpackers and poultry integrators to give farmers statistical information and data about how their pay is calculated, if the farmer requests such information.
  • Farmers’ Legal Rights to Jury Trial – Regulation to prohibit meatpackers and poultry integrators from forcing farmers to give up their legal right to a jury trial to address future disputes with the company.
  • Disclosure – Regulation to require meatpackers and poultry companies to submit to GIPSA sample contracts that they are using in their contract relationships with farmers.

As the FY 2017 appropriations process continues, we will work with our partners to exclude language aimed at shutting down USDA’s enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act from the Senate agriculture appropriations bill and from any final appropriations package.

Our press releases on the Harris amendment are available here and here.

Healthy Food Financing Initiative – The 2014 Farm Bill authorized USDA to administer the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), a priority of First Lady Michelle Obama’s. To date, all of the HFFI funding has been at the Treasury Department and the Department of Health and Human Services. In the President’s FY 2017 budget request the Administration also requested $1 million to start-up HFFI activities within USDA.

Heading into today’s debate, the underlying House Agriculture Appropriations bill for FY 2017 did not include any funding for HFFI. However, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) successfully brought up an amendment to meet the President’s request of $1 million in FY 2017. The amendment passed 28-22 with strong bipartisan support.

If included in final appropriations legislation, the new funding would support market planning and promotion and infrastructure development to increase the availability of retail outlets in food deserts and, potentially, increase the delivery of locally and regionally produced foods. USDA’s portion of the initiative would be administered through Rural Development.

Genetically Modified Organisms – Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), Ranking Member of the full Appropriations Committee, offered an amendment to strike language in the bill that directs USDA and FDA to spend $3 million to promote consumer understanding and acceptance of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The Lowey amendment failed 20-29.

Other Amendments – Members of the majority and minority offered a variety of amendments having to do with everything from horse slaughter to tobacco regulations to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As in years past, the committee passed an amendment to ban the inspection of domestic horse slaughtering facilities, in effect banning all domestic horse slaughter. Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) successfully offered an amendment to weaken FDA’s regulation of e-cigarettes, while Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) failed to strip bill language that limits FDA’s ability to regulate cigars.

Finally, the committee passed an amendment by Representative Steven Palazzo (R-MS) to stop a newly proposed rule that would disallow multi-ingredient food items from qualifying as a single food item (ex. qualifying pizza or macaroni and cheese as a “grain”) for purposes of SNAP. Under the new proposed rule, grocery stores and other food retailers would effectively need to stock more staple foods to accept SNAP payments. The amendment would allow more convenience stores offering little in the way of staple foods to retain eligibility.

Next Steps

The House Agriculture Appropriations bill is now able to go to the House floor for consideration by the full House, though it is not at all clear when or even if that will happen. If the stand-alone bill does not go to the House floor, it may instead be wrapped into a larger funding package that includes multiple appropriations bills.

We expect the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee to debate and vote on its version of the bill later this month. Once that happens, negotiations will ramp up between agriculture appropriators in the House and Senate.

We will continue to monitor and report on the process as it moves forward, so stay tuned.

For a full breakdown of the current funding situation, download our updated annual appropriations chart here.

Categories: Budget and Appropriations, Competition & Anti-trust

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