Ag Policy Blog

Congressman Unites Farm Groups on GIPSA Policy Rider

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland, apparently has a gift for bringing disparate groups together.

Case in point: The American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition all oppose Harris' policy rider on agricultural appropriations blocking USDA's Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration from implementing rules that would give poultry growers more ability to negotiate on a level playing field with poultry companies.

Farm Bureau, Farmers Union and NSAC all oppose your idea? That's a special kind of congressional hat trick.

Harris' amendment was voted on during the Tuesday of the House Appropriations Committee neeting on the funding bill for USDA.

As Farm Bureau noted, the group opposed the Harris amendment, stating that "Farm Bureau wants the rulemaking to be completed so poultry growers have a balanced negotiating position and more options for settling disputes."

National Farmers Union said the House Appropriations Committee's vote "is completely appalling," said NFU President Roger Johnson. "Today’s action is a direct assault on family farmers and ranchers in this country. NFU will work hard to ensure that this partisan amendment never becomes law and that USDA is allowed to do its job.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition called the amendment both "disturbing" and "stunning." NSAC said the amendment was approved on a 26-24 vote. NSAC stated about the amendment, "If included in final FY 2017 funding legislation, it would prevent USDA from implementing even the most basic farmer protections. It prohibits USDA from enforcing provisions from the 2008 Farm Bill and the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921, both of which direct USDA to ensure that livestock and poultry markets are open, transparent, and competitive, and to protect farmers and ranchers from fraudulent, deceptive and abusive practices in their dealings with the meat and poultry industry"

NSAC stated the Harris amendment would prevent USDA from taking action against poultry integrators that retaliate against farmers for exercising their rights to free speech and/or free association. The amendment would also block regulation requiring meatpackers and poultry integrators to give farmers statistical information and data about how their pay is calculated, if the farmer requests such information. The amendment also blocks regulation prohibiting meatpackers and poultry integrators from forcing farmers to give up their legal right to a jury trial to address future disputes with the company. Also blocked is regulation requiring meatpackers and poultry companies to submit to GIPSA sample contracts that they are using in their contract relationships with farmers.

Standing with Rep. Harris is the National Chicken Council. The group issued a news release thanking lawmakers for stemming Obama administration regulatory overreach. The NCC said the administration "finally got it right two years ago" and made some technical changes to GIPS rules.

"That's why we were as surprised as anyone to read the media reports that USDA and GIPSA were intent on revisiting this issue," said NCC President Mike Brown.

Brown added, "USDA seems to be seeking a solution in search of a problem. Let's call this what it is – the administration ignoring the will of Congress and handing a gift to trial lawyers heading out the door. There are no laws, regulations or "riders" that seek to take away a farmer's First Amendment rights or any other rights, or to limit in any way the many legal remedies available to protect those rights. Today's livestock and poultry contracting and marketing practices all remain regulated by GIPSA, which administers and enforces the Packers and Stockyards Act to protect farmers, ranchers and consumers."

The GIPSA rule has been a regulatory battle royal since the passage of the 2008 farm bill. USDA published a proposed rule in June 2010, but Congress flipped party control before a rule could be finalized. House appropriators have used their power ever since to slap rider after rider on full implementation.

The final rule approved in 2011 largely deal with providing more transparency to poultry growers when it comes to the rules of their contracts with vertical integrators. Growers would be able take their contracts to financial advisors and companies would have some time restrictions placed on them when came to terminating contracts with growers.

The Congressional Research Service released a primer on the GIPSA rule, changes and congressional restrictions.…

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