In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its intent to publish a new rule under the Packers & Stockyards Act (PSA), also known as the GIPSA rule. The rule would specify criteria the secretary of agriculture could consider in determining whether conduct or action by packers, swine contractors or live poultry dealers constitutes an undue or unreasonable preference or advantage and a violation of the PSA.
Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA), the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), the Government Accountability Project (GAP), the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) and Farm Aid have joined farmers Tony and Christy Grigsby in the fight for farmer protections and have, together, gathered signatures from more than 84,000 supporters demanding that USDA take strong action in its upcoming undue preference rule-making.
The upcoming rule is set to be released this fall, followed by a 60-day comment period. RAFI-USA, NSAC, GAP, OCM, Farm Aid and the Grigsbys are urging farmers and citizens across the U.S. to submit comments once the rule is released.
Tony and Christy Grigsby were contract poultry farmers for more than 10 years in Alabama, and they witnessed and experienced many hardships during that time. Tony, a retired law enforcement officer-turned poultry farmer, and his wife, Christy, a third-generation poultry farmer, saw their situation dramatically deteriorate after they began raising concerns about the actions of their integrator. Forced to financial ruin by what they call the exploitative system of contract poultry farming, they launched an impassioned plea for public support in their fight for farmer protections.
“Right now, farmers are in a dire situation. Farmers have been trying to raise awareness for more than 30 years. We have led letter-writing campaigns [and] tractor-cades, called government enforcement agencies and met with our elected officials, yet things have not changed, and we’re still losing our farms,” Tony Grigsby said. “Our government needs to start working for the people and not the corporations. We need the USDA to enact strong safeguards for farmers.”
In July, members of the U.S. Senate and House, led by Sen. Tester (D., Mont.) and Rep. Kaptur (D., Ohio), sent a bicameral, bipartisan letter to USDA undersecretary Greg Ibach encouraging the agency to draft regulatory rules that prioritize the rights of America’s small, independent cattle and hog producers and contract poultry growers. The letter urges USDA to limit the control and influence of meatpackers and poultry companies and provide recourse for small producers facing predatory practices.
“Unfortunately, the Grigsbys’ story is not unique. Retaliation and unfair practices have been rampant in the absence of strong protections that enforce the intent of the Packers & Stockyards Act of 1921. It is imperative that USDA take this opportunity to write a strong rule that will promote fair competition within the livestock and poultry industries,” NSAC policy specialist Candace Spencer said.
The petition demands that the upcoming undue preference rule include the following protections for farmers:
- Freedom to speak the truth;
- Freedom to join together in producer associations;
- Protection from corporations enforcing a self-serving system, and
- Clear criteria with detailed, specific rules that adequately cover different types of livestock and are suitable for the future.
North Carolina contract poultry farmer Rudy Howell said this is a chance for the agency to finally deliver for farmers. “Farmers all around are complaining about how we’re being treated but are too scared to speak publicly. We farmers can’t set the record straight and speak the truth, because we don’t have any protections from retaliation. That’s why this rule is so important,” he said.