WASHINGTON, April 21, 2016 – The USDA continues to move aggressively to finish work on a rule that would establish new regulations under the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) on poultry and livestock marketing practices despite efforts on Capitol Hill to block it, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday.
The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved an amendment to the fiscal 2017 agriculture spending bill to stop the “GIPSA rule,” but Vilsack, following a forum at the Brookings Institution, stressed that there is still plenty of support for it in the House and Senate.“Our job is to look out for the producers, and I will tell you that I am surprised and disappointed that the Appropriations Committee would disregard the American Farm Bureau, the National Farmers Union, and sustainable agriculture groups who are concerned about the uneven playing field that our poultry producers face,” Vilsack said about the rule aimed at protecting poultry farmers who are contracted to raise the birds. “We’re just simply trying to make sure the system is fair, and I think those rules will make sure the system is fair. I’m not telling our team to stop doing it because of the rider, that’s for sure.”
One of the House lawmakers that supports the GIPSA rule is Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, who predicted Tuesday that USDA would finish the rule this summer.
If contract growers speak up about what they see as unfair treatment by large chicken companies, she said, “severe retaliation can occur in the form of canceled contracts with no rights for the grower.”
USDA, in a description of the rule it has been working on since it was called for in the 2008 farm bill, states the rule will: “Provide further definition to practices that are unfair, unjustly discriminatory or deceptive, including outlining actions that are retaliatory in nature, efforts that would limit a producer's legal rights, or representations that would be fraudulent or misleading.”
The amendment was offered by Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican who represents Maryland's Eastern Shore, a major poultry-producing area. He said at the committee mark up for the 2017 spending bill that the rule USDA is proposing would hurt large chicken companies and reduce their ability to compete with foreign producers.
The rule, he said, would put a stop to the “tournament system” that chicken companies use to compute the payments they make to contracted growers and which rewards stronger production.
Robert Aderholt, the Alabama Republican who chairs the Appropriations agriculture subcommittee, agreed that the GIPSA rule would “cause disruption” to U.S. poultry production and supported the amendment.
But USDA remains adamant that it will finish the rule. USDA Press Secretary Catherine Cochran said in a statement: “The focus should be on how to ensure a fair marketplace and a level playing field for our farming families – nothing less. Just ask the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition –groups that represent our farmers – and you’ll hear that this GIPSA rider is bad for family farmers, bad for the agriculture industry and bad for our rural communities. Everyone deserves a level playing field. Everyone deserves a fair shot.”
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