Debate over GIPSA heats up

by Erica Shaffer
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WASHINGTON – A coalition of sustainable agriculture and whistleblower protection advocates delivered a petition to Congress urging lawmakers to allow the US Dept. of Agriculture to finalize rules the coalition believes will protect contract farmers.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA) and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) joined Eric Hedrick, a West Virginia contract poultry grower, to deliver the petition which was signed by more than 62,000 individuals. The petition comes as the debate over the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyard Agency (GIPSA) intensifies.

The 2008 Farm Bill directed GIPSA to develop rules aimed at protecting contract poultry growers. But the House Agriculture Appropriations Committee passed a funding package for fiscal year 2017 that included language preventing USDA from finalizing some rules.

Hedrick said he has been victimized by the contract farming industry.

“I took a major risk in coming forward: most farmers in my situation are afraid to speak out against company wrongdoing because the poultry industry and its lobby are so powerful,” Hedrick said in a statement. “But I believe farms should be able to stand good for themselves, contract farmers should be able to make a living without fear of company retaliation. I have funneled my life savings and my kids’ life savings into our farm just to stay afloat. This is not a hobby operation, this is my full-time job, my only job.”

But Tom Super, vice president of communications for the National Chicken Council, said the petition is “filled with more fallacy than fact and doesn’t represent the sentiment of the majority of poultry farmers in the US.” He said the current contracting system has worked well for more than 60 years and has enhanced live chicken performance to the benefit of chicken farmers, poultry companies, consumers and animal welfare.

In a statement, Super said “Let’s be perfectly clear:  there are no laws, regulations or ‘riders’ that seek to take away a farmer's First Amendment rights or any other rights, or to limit in any way the many legal remedies available to protect those rights.

“Today’s livestock and poultry contracting and marketing practices all remain regulated by GIPSA, which administers and enforces the Packers and Stockyards Act to protect farmers, ranchers and consumers.  Add to that every farmer’s right to go to court to challenge provisions of a contract the farmer considers unfair.”

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