In a move designed to take a thorn out of the side of the world’s largest meatpackers, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue put the final nail in the coffin of the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) by formalizing the elimination of the standalone agency and transferring its delegation to the historically big agribusiness-friendly Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Among its duties, the now defunct GIPSA agency was responsible for enforcement of antitrust law in the meatpacking business and protecting farmers and ranchers from predatory and retaliatory trade practices through enforcement of the Packers & Stockyards Act of 1921 (P&S Act).
Secretary Perdue announced his intention to eliminate GIPSA in September 2017, shortly before withdrawing the long-awaited Farmer Fair Practices Rules promulgated by GIPSA to restore needed producer protections to the P&S Act. Perdue cited improved customer service and efficiency as the reason for the elimination of the agency, a statement that would be laughable but for the dire consequences his action will have on the customers the P&S Act was designed to protect – America’s family farmers and ranchers. Perdue’s callous actions fly in the face of President Abraham Lincoln’s stated purpose for establishing USDA as “the people’s department.” The move took effect internally with the issuance of a November 2017 memo and was formalized today in the Federal Register.
Now buried in the bowels of a marketing and promotion agency, P&S Act enforcers will lose direct access to the Secretary and Under Secretary of USDA, having to fight through a layer of unfavorable bureaucracy within AMS for their fair share of budget dollars and the ability to address farmers’ and ranchers’ complaints. Placing a regulatory body – whose mission is to protect farmers from meat packers’ and processors’ abusive retaliatory and predatory practices – into a marketing and promotion agency guarantees a conflict of interest within that agency preventing them from being the fair market enforcers farmers desperately need in the face of ever increasing market consolidation.
AMS is the most corrupt and compromised agency in Washington D.C. and to subordinate P&S Act enforcement as a program of AMS is the death knell for antitrust enforcement in the meatpacking industry. AMS has a long history of too-close association with meatpackers and their lackeys, and is the very agency that rubber stamped the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s abusive expenditures of checkoff funds, denied farmers and ranchers from accessing financial records detailing how their checkoff dollars are being spent, and approved the fraudulent transfer of $60,000,000 of National Pork Board checkoff funds to the National Pork Producers Council. Checkoffs aside, AMS has been captured by the very industry it is now charged with regulating, with an incestuous revolving door between industry and government. Two examples are the recent departure of AMS Deputy Administrator Craig Morris who is now a V.P. for the National Pork Board, and Barry Carpenter, another former AMS Deputy Administrator who is now the CEO of the North American Meat Association, the multinational meatpackers’ trade group. Clearly, AMS is just a satellite office for the meatpackers and is unfit to protect America’s family farmers.
With Secretary Perdue’s action, farmers and ranchers can have little hope that “their” federal agency will provide them any P&S Act protection from the abusive practices of the global monopolies. But this is not the end of the fight. Even though USDA may not recognize it, farmers and ranchers have the fundamental right to bring individual claims against those corporations which have caused them harm and OCM will not stop until these rights are respected. We will forge ahead with our lawsuit against USDA for its unlawful withdrawal of the Farmer Fair Practices Rules. In addition, we continue to urge Congress to take action. It’s an uphill battle but by joining our voices together we will win. Sign up below to join the fight.