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New Legislation Introduced to Close Loopholes in Packers and Stockyards Act

[Pittsboro, NC  July 27, 2023] — Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), in close collaboration with RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA), introduced legislation today that will close loopholes in the Packers and Stockyards Act to allow USDA to more effectively enforce market fairness rules for a wider range of poultry growers. The Poultry Grower Fairness Act expands protections against unfair, discriminatory, or deceptive practices to all poultry growers, including breeder hen and pullet growers, and grants the USDA administrative enforcement authority over poultry, as it already has over livestock industries. Additionally, the Act enables farmer plaintiffs to be awarded attorney’s fees when they stand up to massive corporations with expensive legal teams.

The highly concentrated and vertically integrated nature of today’s livestock and poultry industries enables dominant corporations to abuse their outsized market power by utilizing anticompetitive and deceptive business practices, force unfair contracting provisions onto the growers they contract with, and retaliate against any growers who oppose them. The Packers and Stockyards Act is the most important tool at the disposal of the Department of Agriculture and Department of Justice to prevent meatpackers and poultry corporations from harming growers, but its provisions have not kept up with the changing nature of these industries.

When violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act are discovered in the livestock industry, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Packers and Stockyards Division has the authority to take administrative actions, including holding hearings and assessing civil and criminal penalties. 

However, because of a loophole in the Act, USDA has no administrative enforcement authority over live poultry dealers. This prevents USDA from directly stopping unfair practices in the poultry industry, or penalizing poultry dealers; instead, they must route all actions through the Department of Justice. This makes USDA’s enforcement of market fairness standards in the poultry industry more laborious and inefficient than is the case in other livestock industries, and results in fewer enforcement actions overall. 

The Poultry Grower Fairness Act rectifies this loophole and standardizes the USDA’s authority over all industry sectors regulated by the Packers and Stockyards Act by amending the Packers and Stockyards Act to grant USDA administrative enforcement authority over live poultry dealers. This includes the authority to request temporary injunctions or restraining orders, allowing USDA’s Packers and Stockyards Division to more rapidly intervene in cases where growers are at risk of losing their farms due to unfair corporate practices.

Additionally, the poultry provisions of the Packers and Stockyards Act have historically been misinterpreted to apply only to protections for growers of broilers, to the exclusion of growers of breeder hens and pullets, an important part of the poultry production chain. The Poultry Grower Fairness Act will ensure that all growers in the poultry supply chain are afforded the same protections under the Packers and Stockyards Act.

Finally, the Poultry Grower Fairness Act will direct courts to award a reasonable attorney’s fee to prevailing plaintiffs in civil actions brought under the Packers and Stockyards Act. This will level the playing field for harmed growers seeking justice from massive corporations that intimidate growers with their ability to hire expensive legal defense firms. 

The Senior Program Manager of RAFI Challenging Corporate Power program, Aaron Johnson, notes, “As the USDA continues to strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act through its ongoing series of rulemakings, the Poultry Grower Fairness Act will provide an invaluable contribution to USDA’s future capacity to enforce the strengthened provisions of the Act.”

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