On January 26th, J. Dudley Butler resigned his position as the livestock industry’s top cop. It was a sad day for independent livestock producers and poultry growers.
There was lots of excitement and enthusiasm as the Obama Administration’s Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Justice (DOJ) forged an historic joint effort to deal with the long-neglected concentration and market power abuse in agriculture. But after some three years and five workshops which hyped the unprecedented reform initiative, very little has happened. Butler’s departure follows that of other key would-be market reformers; DOJ Antitrust Chief Christine Varney and her deputy Phil Weiser.
Dudley Butler was the first administrator of USDA’s Grain Inspection and Packers and
Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) in memory that actually made a serious effort to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 (PSA). GIPSA had a sorry record. The agency had been found deficient in performance by both the USDA Inspector General and the General Accountability Office. In 2006 there was a major scandal when Acting Administrator Jo Ann Waterfield was discovered to be actively blocking enforcement of PSA. Some fifty enforcement actions were found squirreled away in her desk, even as she instructed her subordinates to report any correspondence concerning enforcement as a separate enforcement action. The obvious intent was to avoid actual enforcement while creating an impression of vigorous enforcement activity.
It was against this backdrop that Butler assumed his duties and set about to restore performance and integrity to an agency of critical importance to livestock producers.
He set about reinvigorating PSA, often called the producer protection act, by initiating a rulemaking. A proposed GIPSA Rule was published on the National Register in June of 2010. A veritable firestorm ensued!
Immediately after the proposed rule was published, he and others in USDA were hauled before a hearing of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry. Butler was subjected to a demeaning and bipartisan pummeling by congressmen who were mostly recipients of generous campaign contributions from big agribusiness interests who were opposed to the Rule.
Butler was painted as a not-too-successful former trial lawyer who had a habit of suing poultry integrators and was now intent on making it easier to bring suit under PSA. At the OCM Convention in St. Louis in August of 2009, Butler stated that PSA currently contained terms that were broad and subject to jury interpretation. He stated this situation to be a trial lawyer’s dream. He explained that the proposed GIPSA Rule would clarify these terms, implying that such would lessen the probability of litigation. This statement was twisted and widely misquoted by packer-friendly publications and beholden politicians to say the GIPSA Rule would be a trial lawyers dream. Even after this phony allegation was debunked by wide dissemination of a YouTube video clip of Butler’s actualtalk in St. Louis, the lies continued.
There were flimsy and biased studies by American Meat Institute and others which made claims that ridiculous harm and costs would result from the Rule. False claims against the proposed GIPSA Rule were rampant and ubiquitous.
During President Obama’s bus trip through Iowa last fall, local newspaper advertisements were run depicting the Rule as a bane to the beef industry and being widely opposed by livestock producers. The President’s campaign folks apparently came to believe the proposed Rule was a political liability and administration support soon evaporated.
I’m sure the bitterest pill for Butler was the malicious lies and personal attacks. They not only came from meat packer and their minions but from folks such as former U. S. Representative Bob Barr and Senator Pat Roberts. Barr had represented a client who had run afoul of GIPSA and Senator Roberts is well known to have strong ties to the Kansas Livestock Association and NCBA, both fervently opposed to the Rule.
The key livestock provisions of the GIPSA Rule were ultimately killed through a rider in an appropriations bill which precluded funding for specific provisions within the rule.
This was a shocking and unprecedented tactic.
Dudley Butler has now returned to Mississippi. He says that he left GIPSA due to personal considerations. However, he is actively involved with reform minded groups who continue the effort to preserve the last vestiges of independent family agriculture by restoring competition and fairness to the marketplace.
Mr. Butler, we in OCM and our friends in other organizations offer our sincere thanks for your valiant efforts and welcome you as a part of our continuing fight. FS