Opinion: Proposed GIPSA rules pose huge political risk for President Trump

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Dave Dickey

Dave Dickey

There is a great scene in the 1990 submarine flick “The Hunt for Red October” where a U.S. sub captained by Cdr. Bart Mancuso (Scott Glenn) bears down directly on an oncoming Russian sub. Oh, by the way, did I mention closing rapidly from behind the U.S. sub was a torpedo fired by the Russian sub skipper?

As the two subs approach, Mancuso tells us: “The hard part about playing chicken is knowing when to flinch.”

On its way out the door, the Obama administration has put into motion its own little game of chicken with the incoming Trump administration. Over chicken. Specifically, it’s called for changes to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA.

Current GIPSA regulations give meat packers the upper hand over individual chicken producers. In fact, almost total control.

The Farmers Fair Practice Rules addresses some of the most egregious current GIPSA rules, including requiring chicken farmers to prove harm to the poultry industry as a whole in order to get a judgment for being treated unfairly.

Needless to say, the Obama administration did not win any fans among Big Meat in general and the National Chicken Council in particular.

National Chicken Council President Mike Brown tossed a bowl full of complaints against the wall to see what would stick:

“These rules could lead to rigid one-size-fits-all requirements on chicken-growing contracts that would stifle innovation, lead to higher costs for consumers, and cost jobs by forcing the best farmers out of the chicken business.”

But in a show of solidarity, the nation’s two largest general farm groups — the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union, which often find themselves on opposing sides of ag issues both large and small — offered vigorous endorsements for the GIPSA proposals.

Two submarines bearing down on each other. In one the former Obama administration, small rural America, the NFU and AFBF, and oh yes, general bipartisan support in Congress. In the other Big Meat. A game of high stakes chicken.

Which brings me to newly minted President Donald J. Trump.

Because ultimately, he has to decide which submarine to board and which will be forced to turn away. Will Trump side with rural America, which was largely responsible in putting him in office?  Or will he align with Big Meat, which pins its hopes on Trump, who in turn has opposed rules killing free markets?

Trump can kill the GIPSA interim final rule simply by withdrawing it from the Federal Register.  He doesn’t even need a Tweet.

So what will he do? Here’s hoping it is not the one skippered by the Big Meat boys. Hard working individual poultry producers and ranchers need a more level playing field — one that allows for open and transparent markets.


About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For the past 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch

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