Opinion: USDA just threw livestock producers under the bus

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Early, very early in the Trump Administration, I postulated that perhaps the POTUS wasn’t all that passionate about all things agricultural to the determinant of Big Ag in general and the individual farmer in particular.

Dave Dickey

But, as in life, most agricultural issues are not black and white; there are plenty of grays coloring any particular ag topic making it harder to discern what the heck is going on, who are the winners and losers and more importantly, why.

However, every now and then, there is an agricultural decision that provides clarity as to where an administration stands. Such is the case in the fight over rule changes to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA.

I laid out the particulars in a blog last February.

Essentially individual farmers wanted changes in GIPSA that would make it easier to successfully sue Big Ag beef packers, swine contractors or live poultry dealers.

Under current GIPSA rules, that’s all but impossible.

For example, under GIPSA individual chicken farmers must prove harm from the entire poultry industry to get a judgment for being treated unfairly.

Rule changes would have clarified “the conduct or action by packers, swine contractors, or live poultry dealers that GIPSA considers unfair, unjustly discriminatory, or deceptive and a violation of section 202(a) of the P&S Act.”

If USDA allowed the GIPSA changes to become the law of the land it would be saying: “We stand with you, family farmer.”

If USDA torpedoed the GIPSA rule changes it would be saying: “We stand with Big Ag.”

Black and white.

At the moment of truth, USDA picked Big Ag.

Needless to say, Big Ag was delighted, if not relieved.

The National Pork Producers Council sent out a press releasing saying, “Eliminating the need to prove injury to competition would have prompted an explosion in … lawsuits by turning every contract dispute into a federal case subject to triple damages”

Let me translate….the pork council is happy to keep pork individual producers under the Big Ag packers thumb.

To add insult to injury, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue in an incredible act of stupidity and lack of compassion told South Dakota rancher Cindy Lensgrav this the day after the GIPSA rule changes were withdrawn:

“He told us we should all get together and build a packing plant. I told him that has been tried and has been unsuccessful. The big packing companies undercut the small plants.”

So let me get this straight. USDA’s solution to totally discriminatory and unfair GIPSA rules is to encourage those individual farmers on the outside looking in to bond together, form a packer company and then take advantage of any other farmers coming their way for business?

Uh no.

I think U.S. Cattleman’s Association president Kenny Graner is closer to the truth in saying,  “The proposed and interim rules sought to maintain competition in the marketplace; withdrawing the rule is a win for multi-national packers and fails to put U.S. cattle producers first.”

Black and white.  Individual farmers and ranchers beware.

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 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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