WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2017 - The Trump administration has delayed a new Agriculture Department rule that sets standards of proof for livestock and poultry producers who believe they have been harmed by processors' business practices.
In one of President Donald Trump's first acts, the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, has directed agencies to delay by 60 days new rules that have yet to take effect. The interim final rule that USDA's Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) released in December was scheduled to take effect Feb. 21.
The delay is likely to be longer, and the rule could ultimately be killed. The order also directs agencies to consider an additional delay beyond the 60-day period.
David Warner, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, said his group was“pleased that the GIPSA rule won't go into effect Feb. 21 and that we'll have more time to convince the Trump administration and new Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that this unwanted and costly ‘midnight' regulation is bad for farmers and ranchers, bad for consumers and bad for the U.S. economy.”
USDA officials argued that producers challenging processor contracting and buying practices have been unfairly required to prove that they harmed the entire market. The new rule would tell courts that a practice can violate the Packers and Stockyards Act without a legal finding of harm to competition.
Today's action could put the Trump administration at odds with the American Farm Bureau Federation's President Zippy Duvall, a Georgia farmer who earlier issued this statement regarding the rule:
“The Agriculture Department's Farmer Fair Practices Rules take an important step toward leveling the playing field in the poultry industry by ensuring companies follow the law and treat farmers fairly, without disrupting beef and pork markets.
“Farm Bureau has long advocated for changes in the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration's rules. We have asked for changes to stop harmful business practices and protect chicken farmers. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work here, and that's why we have also worked to preserve the contract arrangements and marketing practices that make the beef and pork industries competitive.
“These proposed rules will strengthen GIPSA's ability to evaluate business practices in the poultry industry and better protect individual farmers from discriminatory treatment. America's chicken farmers have long called for greater transparency and a level playing field in our industry, and we appreciate USDA's efforts to hold companies accountable and give farmers a voice.”
The order would likely stall a final rule released on Wednesday by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service to tighten animal welfare regulations for organic products, which is set to take effect March 20.
The new rule, which as largely unchanged from an April 2016 proposal that angered the poultry and livestock industry, expands the outdoor access requirement for organic poultry. Covered porches would no longer be sufficient to meet the requirement. Birds would have to be allowed out on the ground. Indoor regulations also would be increased.
The rule will have a gradual phase-in process. Producers have five years to comply with outdoor access requirements for poultry, three years to comply with indoor access, and one year to comply with all other provisions.