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To the Editor:
The rhetoric surrounding USDA's new Farmer Fair Practices Rules has gotten out of hand, and that's bad news for livestock producers and poultry growers alike. If I were a rancher reading last week's DTN article on the rules, "Fair Practices Rule a Miscue for Beef" (http://bit.ly/…), I would be scared of losing my premiums too. Unfortunately, the industry has let the facts get away from them.
The meatpacking giants that control the beef, pork, and chicken industries want you to believe that these three rules are bad for independent producers. They want you to believe that holding them accountable for major abuses of their power -- which is what the rules do -- ends up being bad for your bottom line. They even go so far as to claim that the USDA, through these rules, is attempting to alter the way you raise your livestock or conduct your business.
The truth is, the meatpackers spread this misinformation to change the story. They are deflecting from the fact that just four of them control 85 percent of the beef market, 74 percent of the pork market, and more than half of the poultry industry. They are deflecting from the fact that this extreme consolidation grants them tremendous power over their respective market, and that monopsonistic power can be and is used against producers and growers.
In the recent DTN article, the author repeats dated, and, quite frankly, irrelevant meatpacker talking points that miss the mark on what the Farmer Fair Practices Rules actually mean for the beef industry. The author's argument that these rules take away market opportunities and prevent premiums is inappropriate and incorrect. It is a scare tactic that was developed long before the current rules were even written.
The Farmer Fair Practices Rules are simply a clarification of the Packers and Stockyards Act, which was written to address abuses by major livestock and poultry meatpackers. The Packers and Stockyards Act prohibits unfair practices and undue preferences, but it never defines what those practices or preferences are.
So the USDA in December released the Farmer Fair Practices Rules to define what constitutes unfair practices and undue preferences. These include well-documented abuses like retaliating against a producer because they start an association of producers, or intentionally giving a contract chicken grower lower quality feed or chicks. Some poultry companies have even refused to allow their growers to witness the weighing of their birds. Cattle producers would recoil from such behavior, and so should the government.
The rules do not eliminate premiums or incentives to raise a better animal. In fact, they ensure individual producers are compensated fairly based on the quality of the product they produce. And they hold meatpackers accountable for bad and systemic practices that violate family farmers' and ranchers' rights as Americans.
Clarifying what the Packers and Stockyards Act deems discriminatory, unfair and deceptive is absolutely essential in this day and age. As the international meatpacking companies continue to merge or acquire one another, all of the market power is left in the hands of just a few large companies. This consolidated market power disadvantages family farmers and ranchers, and it leads to unfair practices that should have no place in modern, American agriculture. Family farmers and ranchers deserve provisions that protect against these unfair practices.
Do not let the multinational meatpackers continue to play the victim, or worse, insinuate that independent producers are somehow disadvantaged by the elimination of anti-competitive practices. Stand for increased transparency, fairness, and competition by standing for the Farmer Fair Practices Rules.
-- Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union president
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