Tester, Grassley Continue Fight for Family Farms, Demand USDA Defend Small Livestock Producers

Senators: “Family farmers and ranchers are vital to the strength of rural America.”

As the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) begins to clarify rules within the Packers and Stockyards Act, U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Undersecretary Greg Ibach outlining key priorities to help family farmers compete with large corporations.

Tester and Grassley—the only farmers in the U.S. Senate—are demanding that USDA provide protections for livestock and poultry farmers against unfair, deceptive practices by meatpackers and poultry companies, as well as stop companies from giving unreasonable preference to some farmers over others.

“Family farmers and ranchers are vital to the strength of rural America. They provide the food security that America needs to thrive and create jobs in small towns across the country,” said the Senators. “…It’s critically important for USDA to limit the control and influence of meatpackers and poultry companies and provide recourse for small producers facing predatory practices.”

The Senators are requesting that USDA protect farmers from retaliation when they express concerns to USDA or Congress, clarify that the Packers and Stockyards Act does not require a demonstration of harm across the entire industry, defend small producers against preferential marketing agreements for large livestock producers, and provide security and transparency within the tournament system used to pay poultry growers.

The 2008 Farm Bill required USDA to issue regulations clarifying aspects of the Packers and Stockyards Act, providing protections to family farms. In 2017, USDA announced that they would no longer be implementing the rules, prompting Tester and Grassley to denounce the decision and demand that the Department move forward with rulemaking. This spring, USDA announced that they would be clarifying the rules in the fall, though no other announcements have since been made.

The letter is supported by the Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform, Family Farm Action, Farm Aid, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Food & Water Watch, Government Accountability Project, National Farmers Union, National Family Farm Coalition, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Organization for Competitive Markets, Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, and the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

“We’ve seen contracts leave many poultry and livestock farmers in financial ruin and conditions are often worse for those who speak up or speak out,” said Sally Lee, Associate Director of the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA. “We appreciate Senators Tester and Grassley’s support for a strong rule to defend farmers against corporate retaliation and level the playing field between corporations and farmers.”

“The future of independent livestock producers rests on USDA adopting strong rules that will re-energize the Packers and Stockyards Act as a producer protection statute,” said Vaughn Meyer, Vice President of the Organization for Competitive Markets. “When big meatpacking companies give out sweetheart deals to the insiders harming the independent producers, retaliate against producers who speak out against abusive corporate monopoly practices, or short pay the producer, the producer should be able to make a claim against the meatpacker for that very abuse. Senators Tester and Grassley are fighting for this producer right and we applaud them for their steadfast support.”

“Retaliation for exposing wrongdoing in the workplace is not uncommon, but for many farmers, retaliation is deeply woven into business culture,” said Amanda Hitt of the GAP Food Integrity Campaign. “We need strong provisions to put an end to the all too common but regrettable use of retaliation. Good farmers should be allowed to speak on behalf of justice and fairness.”

The full text of the letter is available HERE.