by Kayla Sargent
A proposed revision to the Packers and Stockyards Act (P&SA) focusing on shielding producers from undue preference has several groups rallying support to advance the rule. The rule is set to be published and opened for comment later this summer.
Section 202(b) of the P&SA prohibits meatpackers from giving undue preference or advantages to any person, or unreasonable disadvantage to any person. For example, undue disadvantage may occur through retaliation against growers whom speak out against company abuse, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) explained. NSAC also said undue preference may include pricing issues like unfair volume discounts or premiums that place larger-scale operations over smaller producers.
The proposed rule would “specify criteria the Secretary 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 P&SA.” NSAC said “robust regulations would provide relief for growers suffering from discrimination and unreasonable prejudice.”
NSAC, along with Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA) and Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), have created a public petition to “Stand with Farm Families.” The petition states “big agriculture is putting family farms out of business and it has to stop.” It explains that the proposed rule will protect livestock and poultry producers “basic rights, like freedom of speech and freedom to join together in association.”
The petition said farmers are in need of the freedom to speak the truth without being financially punished in the market, especially when making statements to government officials or to the media. It also said producers should not be discriminated against for joining with other growers in advocacy efforts, specifically by poultry companies.
“We’ve heard story after story of processors retaliating against farmers who speak out against exploitation and abuse. Farmers should be able to speak their mind. They should not be subject to reprisal or retaliation when they push back on unfair treatment by processors. We hope USDA will help level the playing field for independent contract farmers with a new rule that effectively protects them from corporate abuse,” RAFI-USA Executive Director Edna Rodriguez said.
North Carolina contract poultry farmer Rudy Howell said many producers are complaining about poor treatment, “but are too scared to speak publicly.” Howell said farmers are unable to “set the record straight” because there are no protections from retaliation.
The petition further suggests farmers should only be paid based on factors within their control. Finally, it states one set of criteria will not be adequate to address the differences across all livestock sectors and urges the creation of criteria specific to each species of livestock.
The list of signatures will be delivered to USDA this summer when the comment period on the proposed rule opens. Along with the signed petition, NSAC will be submitting individual comments and further recommendations for revisions to the P&SA.
“The fate of America’s family farmers is now in the hands of Secretary Perdue. Whether he will side with large transnational corporate monopolies like JBS and Tyson or stand up for America’s independent family farmers is yet to be seen,” OCM said. “Abusive market practices not only bankrupt family farmers but they destroy rural communities, local businesses and banks while denying consumers healthy and safe food choices at their grocery stores. All of us must be prepared to accept the Secretary’s invitation and issue our comments about the exceptional need for market protections.”BACK