The following op-ed by Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, made the rounds a few weeks ago. At the time, there was yet another concerted push on to get the Obama Administration to make final approval of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration rule (GIPSA). Johnson makes the points very clearly below why final approval of GIPSA remains a key policy consideration of both the National and Ohio Farmers Union. It’s rather unbelievable at this point that rule making which actually protects the rights of family farmers, smaller livestock operators and consumers would be held up since 2010. Please consider sending President Barack Obama a letter or email today regarding your support of final implementation of GIPSA. – Ron
by Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union President
In June 2010, the U.S. government provided some simple clarifications to the law that governs the relationship between livestock producers and the meatpackers and processors who buy their animals. This proposed change, known as the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (or GIPSA) rule, would help to ensure fairness for individual producers and restore competition to agricultural markets. Predictably, it prompted immediate and vigorous backlash from meat processors.
What does the GIPSA rule, so demonized by packers and processors, actually do?
It protects the basic rights of family farmers. The rule prevents packers and processors from driving farmers and ranchers out of business one at a time, and it protects producers who speak out against unfair business practices. Poultry integrators will no longer be allowed to unfairly force growers to make expensive equipment changes without adequate compensation. Livestock markets will be more competitive because two or more packers will be prohibited from sharing a single livestock buyer. Hog farmers who were kept in the dark about each others’ contracting agreements could compare their contracts and other vital documents to make sure they are being treated fairly.
These are examples of some of the common-sense rights that small-business owners in other sectors currently enjoy. Any critic who claims the proposed GIPSA rule is “regulatory overreach” that will “kill jobs” does not have farmers, ranchers and consumers’ interests in mind. Farmers, ranchers and consumers overwhelmingly support the Rule, as do the two largest general farm organizations in the country (National Farmers Union being one of them).
But the GIPSA rule is not just important for family farmers. Consumers need it, too.
Unless the GIPSA rule is implemented as Congress directed, more small farmers will go out of business and meat production will be further concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer even larger farms. What does this mean to you, the consumer? One recent example is the salmonella outbreak in eggs that occurred in 2010. The outbreak prompted the largest egg recall in history, affecting more than 550 million eggs and sickening nearly 2,000 people nationwide. Those 550 million eggs were marketed under at least 16 different brands that all originated from two factory farms owned by the same individual. If packers and processors successfully kill the GIPSA rule, you can look forward to more production being concentrated in the hands of a few megafarms and the increased possibility that you may someday be eating tainted food from the same farm as schoolchildren in California or a family in Maine.
In order to find the source of the anti-GIPSA rule campaign, one only needs to follow the money to the meatpackers and processors. Family farmers do not have the resources to compete with national messaging campaigns, flawed economic analyses, and full-page ad buys, but we do have grassroots power on our side. I leave it to you to decide who to believe: the largest meatpackers in the country, who made billions in profits last year, or two million American family farmers and ranchers?
Roger Johnson is the 14th President of the National Farmers Union. Prior to his post at NFU, Johnson held the position of Agriculture Commissioner in North Dakota for 12 years and his family farms in Turtle Lake, N.D.
I see that Chuck Conner, former economist at USDA, is pushing co-ops to not support the GIPSA rule. Chuck Conner would not use his authority to help family farmers in the individual cases that the GIPSA rule cites as examples of federal courts legislating from the bench. Chuck Conner could not or would not properly regulate the meat packers and while he was in government did not do his job to properly investigate the cases cited. Instead, under his and other’s leadership, he made sure that the economic complaints made to GIPSA by family farmers was thwarted. GIPSA under the previous administration was investigated by the Office of Investigator General and the report was so damning backing up the claims I am now making that the head of GIPSA, JoAnn Waterfield left the office so quickly and “hidden” that reporters could not interview her. In fact, under Chuck Conner’s leadership, JoAnn Waterfield’s attorneys researched for the meat packers a defense that was used by federal judges to dismiss with prejudice a case brought by a family farmer under the Agriculture Fair Practices Act (AFPA). The next farm bill did rewrite some of the language in the law to make it more inclusive after the federal courts in the 6th circuit defined it so narrowly as to be able to dismiss the cause of action. We need to get rid of the loophole writers in the Judicial Committee in Washington D.C. who write in loopholes for the meat packers who are paying them off. We need a government that works for the nation, not special interests like meat packers who are cheating family farmers out of the value of their assets by discriminatory pricing. We also need to get rid of judges who ignore the laws as written and put up road block after roadblock to justice for the little guys in the economy who are being retaliated against because they spoke up.
We need to stop the revolving door politics that meat packers have used to pay their cronies off in previous administrations and to thwart justice for family farmers speaking up for their rights.
Right now we have the best politicians money can buy and it is destroying the value of the average American and handing over excuses to the ones paying off the political system. We need an “American Spring”.