Archive for Monday, October 23, 2017

Rollback of livestock rules divides Kansas ag community

October 23, 2017


— The Kansas agriculture community was divided this past week over a decision by the Trump administration to block new rules from taking effect that were intended to protect poultry producers from unfair commercial practices by food processing giants like Tyson Foods.

The rules had been proposed by a federal agency called the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They were scheduled to go into effect on Thursday.

Among other things, the new rules would have made it easier for individual poultry producers to lodge complaints against poultry companies like Tyson for unfair practices.

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, praised the decision to block the rules.

“The Obama administration spent the better part of a decade ignoring the calls from farmers, ranchers, and agriculture economists warning of the billion dollar blow this rule would have levied against American agriculture," he said in a statement released Tuesday. "Secretary (Sonny) Perdue’s actions today demonstrate the Trump Administration’s commitment to promoting economic prosperity and reducing regulatory burdens in rural America.”

But not all agriculture groups were equally pleased with the decision. One group, the Nebraska-based Organization for Competitive Markets, called it "a slap in the face to rural America."

Don Stull, a retired anthropology professor at the University of Kansas, is vice president of that organization. He has studied the meat and poultry industry since 1986, especially poultry growers who grow for Tyson near his home community in western Kentucky, where he is half-owner of a family farm.

"I am disappointed. I’m not surprised. I don’t think anyone is truly surprised. But yes, we’re very disappointed," Stull said during a telphone interview. "Sen. Roberts has sided with the multinational agribusiness corporations to the detriment of farmers and ranchers."

Stull said that in the modern poultry industry, a company like Tyson, or any other major meat producer, will contract with a local grower to raise chickens for a certain number of weeks. The company will deliver a batch of chicks to the grower, and the grower agrees to accept a certain amount of money for every pound they put on before delivering them back to the company.

The problem, he said, is that the grower has no control over the quality of chicks he receives. They may be healthy, or they may already have bacterial infections or genetic abnormalities that cause them to die before they are delivered back.

In addition, he said, because of non-disclosure agreements in those contracts, growers have no way of knowing whether they are being paid the same rate that other growers are being paid.

A 1920s-era law called the Packers and Stockyards Act was intended to protect livestock producers from those kinds of practices, Stull said. But over the decades, regulations have been adopted favoring the meatpacking industry so that it's nearly impossible for individual producers to file claims under the act unless they can show that a company is engaged in a practice that negatively affects competition nationwide.

"That’s impossible to show, really," Stull said. "If that rule had been implemented, then farmers would be able to go into court and lodge complaints that they had been harmfully treated, and would have been able to challenge the poultry companies in court."

Tyson, which recently cancelled plans to build a major poultry production facility near Tonganoxie, but which is still considering other locations in Kansas, strongly opposed the rules, saying in a statement posted on its website that they would increase costs for the company and consumers, and would increase the company's exposure to litigation.

But even the U.S. and Kansas Farm Bureau organizations, which normally oppose any new federal regulations on their industries, said they hope USDA will continue working on rules to protect independent producers, although the organizations did oppose other rules that were part of the GIPSA package.

"As to the unfair and undue preferences rule, we’re encouraging the agency to continue to work toward solutions that protect our farmers and ranchers from unjust practices and strengthening GIPSA’s ability to enforce these issues," Nancy Brown, KFB's director of policy development, said in a telephone interview.

Roberts said in a news release that he has been working to block the new rules since 2010. He said he had heard concerns about the GIPSA rules from farmers and ranchers in February during a field hearing in Manhattan about the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization. In April 2016, he sent a letter to USDA urging the agency to reconsider issuing the rules.


Eric Steiner 6 months ago

I would be curious to see how much Tyson, etc has "contributed" to Roberts

Ken Lassman 6 months ago

Can you imagine a health insurance company trying to keep the amount they pay a doctor for services rendered a secret from other doctors, and that the doctor would not be able to appeal the amount she or he gets? Now imagine that instead of a wage earning person, the doctor is providing needed services to a chick without a job to help pay the bill. How many doctors do you think we'd have with that kind of an arrangement? If that's the only way that big producers like Tyson can make a go of it, then it's time to say that the emperor not only has no clothes, but that he is walking on the backs of the contracted farmer who has to crawl on her or his hands and knees to make sure that emperor doesn't step on a thorn.

Carol Bowen 6 months ago

I did not read anything that implied the ag community was divided. Senator Roberts divided himself out of the community

Tom Te 6 months ago

Senator Roberts is moreinterested in catering to the concentrated power of the meat packers and their accessories.who are a large part of the D.C. swamp. He doesn't care at all about the challenges of the family farmer with the impostion of extraordiary schemes designed by meat packers to capture their value. The meat packers use part of their savings to pay of members of Congress like Roberts. Third world contries have nothing on the banana republic we have become. The rule of law isn't real. The courts continue to throw a few bones here and there to make it look like the rule of law exists but their main function is to ignore whatever the law says if it imposes any costs on the people paying off politicians. In this case, judges labeled this law something so they would not have to deal with the what the law says.

We have the best government money can buy. If you don't pay to play, you don't get listened to in the courts and they will go out of their way to tip the scales in favor of who is paying our political institutions. The Judiciary Committee is highly sought after because that is where power is and can be controlled by politicians in this process.

It is about time we held these people accountable.and in similar ways that they are allowing meat packers to be unfair to family farmers. Can't you just see a federal judge having to recarpet the court house on his own dime and then coming back three years later and putting in wood floors? After the wood floors we could go to bamboo floors and then slate floors---all on a rotating basis so that he/she is never out of debt and has huge loans to pay off these extravagances for the public. Only then will they understand how it feels to the a poultry farmer and would actually enforce the laws on the books instead of looking for more excuses for the meat packers. They might also benefit by knowing intimately the flooring possibilities.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.