USDA Betrays Farmers by Terminating Fair Practice Rules

Photo: Sec. of Agriculture Sonny Perdue meets with President Donald Trump (Wikimedia Commons).

Pittsboro, NC (October 17, 2017
) — Today, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would terminate the Interim Final Farmer Fair Practice Rule that was set to go into effect October 19th.

Farmers have been calling out to USDA for over a decade to hold big business in livestock industries accountable for unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices. This action today is a step in the wrong direction for rural America, siding with Big Meat and against farmers. It comes as a shock to many farmers, who had hoped this administration would take steps to revitalize rural America and ensure a fair playing field for small businesses.

The pending rule that has been scrapped would have allowed farmers to hold companies accountable for blatant wrongdoing, such as deception or theft, through seeking justice in the courts. In the industry today, farmers’ lawsuits are overwhelmingly thrown out because they are required to prove “competitive injury.” In other words, if they have been harmed or suffered damages because of an integrator’s unfair practices, they must to prove that the company’s actions harmed competition throughout the entire industry in addition to the legitimacy of their own claim. This is an insurmountable burden of proof with no rational basis that prevents many farmers from seeking legitimate justice.

This Interim Final Rule was one of a package of three rules, published for comment by USDA at the end of the Obama administration in December 2016. These three rules, known as the “Farmer Fair Practice Rules” were the reduction of an even earlier attempt at common sense regulation for this industry, originally put forth by USDA’s Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) in 2010. Lobbyists managed to block the 2010 “GIPSA” rules for almost five years through Congress by putting undemocratic pressure on the appropriations process. Over the years, thousands of farmers and rural community members have commented on these rules, both in 2010 and again in 2016. Today’s withdrawal of the rules makes it clear that this administration is not listening to the voices of farmers, and is giving in to the demands of Big Meat.

In response to the announcement, Sally Lee, program director at Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, issued the following statement:

“We are outraged that the USDA is withdrawing rules that would clearly provide basic protections for family farmers and rural communities. Instead, they’ve chosen to side with Big Meat. Farmers have made clear that they need protection from harmful and abusive practices that are standard in their industry. President Trump pledged that he would take a stand for them, but is instead taking another step in the opposite direction by canceling the interim final fair practice rule. I urge this administration to make good on his promise to protect rural communities, and immediately implement the interim final rule.”

Mike Weaver, President, Poultry Growers Association of the Virginias, issued the following comment: 
“This rule would have put small family farm poultry growers on a more even footing with multi-national corporations in this industry. It would allow them to take legal action on individual cases. American small family farmers are terribly disappointed in the Trump administration for not fulfilling its campaign promise to help the little guy and promote small American family farmers.”

About Sally Lee: Sally Lee is a program director at Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA) and director of the new documentary, “Under Contract,” which investigates the abusive contract system that poultry farmers face when working with corporate poultry processors.

About RAFI-USA: The Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA’s mission is to cultivate markets, policies, and communities that sustain thriving, socially just, and environmentally sound family farms. RAFI works nationally and internationally, focusing on North Carolina and the southeastern United States. RAFI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Pittsboro, North Carolina and incorporated in 1990.


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