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Family Farmers Go to Washington, Cry Foul Over Meat Industry Abuse

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact: Adam Hymans, adam@resource-media.org, 215.796.7759

Photos, videos and backgrounders: https://tinyurl.com/standwithfarmfamiliesassets
 

[WASHINGTON, D.C. – July 16, 2019] — Family farmers and advocates from the country’s top agricultural states took to Capitol Hill this week to expose what they say have been decades of abuse by the nation’s largest meat companies. At a press conference on Tuesday, the group launched its Stand With Farm Families campaign, sharing accounts of predatory contracts, rigged markets and retaliation that many claim have driven them into bankruptcy.
“Corporate bullying, intimidation and a mafia-like mentality has taken control of the chicken industry,” said Anthony Grigsby, an Alabama law-enforcement officer-turned-poultry-grower and his wife Christy, whose family has grown chickens for three generations. “In 2019, as a result of retaliation for speaking out, we had to file for bankruptcy. Like many other farmers, we’ve lost everything–our farm, our family home, and the house where we planned to spend our retirement.”

The Grigsbys were joined at the conference by farmers with similar experiences from North Carolina to South Dakota. Collectively, the group launched a petition on Change.org that had seen over 30,000 signatures by Tuesday morning. They expect to see tens of thousands more in a matter of days. According to Amanda Hitt, whistleblower attorney with the Food Integrity Campaign, the goal of Stand With Farm Families is to urge the USDA to resurrect and add specific protections to its Farmer Fair Practices Rule, also known as “GIPSA.” “We need these protections,” said Hitt. “The rule would do a lot to level the playing field between farmers and corporations.” The rule was created under the Obama Administration as a clarification of the Packers and Stockyards Act, a law passed in 1921 to tame rampant exploitation in the meatpacking industry. GIPSA was withdrawn by the Trump Administration in 2017, but the USDA announced that it would reexamine the rule this summer.

In a pre-conference meeting with the USDA, farmers and advocates doubled down on the need for strong safeguards for farmers, animals and consumers. “Government has failed to do its job,” says Joe Maxwell, President of the Organization for Competitive Markets, an organization that advocates for economic justice on behalf of America’s independent family agriculture. “As a result, a handful of multinational corporations and their overpaid CEOs control our food system, driving family farmers off the land, abusing workers and leaving consumers without safe and healthy food choices.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the farmer coalition presented at a bi-partisan congressional briefing, organized by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio). “Over 90% of the meat on American dinner tables comes from family farmers under contract with big companies.” emphasized Sally Lee, head of the contract agriculture program at Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that provides services and advocacy for farmers across the Southeast. “But those big companies are not letting the farmers do the farming. Today farmers get less than 14% of each dollar you spend on your food. If we respect our family farms, we should protect them from exploitation.”

  The coalition asks to see six protections in the USDA’s upcoming rule:

“This rule must ensure that industry practices do not infringe on farmers’ freedom of speech. Any change in payment based on a farmer-producer’s public statements, or failure to make a public statement, especially to government officials, should be clearly defined as undue preference, and therefore illegal under the Packers and Stockyards Act.

Producer pay should be based solely on issues within the producer’s control, and differences in payment between producers based on issues outside of the producer’s control is defined as undue preference. This specifically includes performance resulting from inputs supplied by the integrator.

Packers and poultry processors have been allowed to develop “common practices” that should be considered violations of the undue preference provision of the Packers & Stockyards Act (P&SA). The rule MUST NOT simply accept as lawful these current common practices of the packing and processing industry. Even “common practices” MUST be evaluated for potentially creating undue preference.

The criteria established by the rule must be detailed and specific enough to ensure that under factual scenarios a finding of a violation will be made.

Because of the different types of vertical integration across poultry, hog, and cattle sectors, one set of criteria will not adequately address undue preferences in all livestock sectors. Therefore, there will need to be criteria that address production relationships where the processor owns the animals during the production phase, and separate criteria that address livestock sectors where producers own the livestock prior to slaughter.

And finally, regulatory criteria must establish different sets of criteria for analyzing different aspects of the dealings between packers/processors and livestock producers/farmers, which may lead to undue preferences.”

According to USDA, a draft rule will be released sometime this summer, followed by a 60-day public comment period. The Stand With Farm Families coalition is urging farmers and citizens across the U.S. to submit comments once the rule is released.

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About the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA
The Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA mission is to cultivate markets, policies and communities that sustain thriving, socially just, and environmentally sound family farms. RAFI-USA works nationally and internationally, focusing on North Carolina and the southeastern United States. RAFI-USA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Pittsboro, North Carolina and incorporated in 1990. Learn more at www.rafiusa.org/programs/contract-agriculture-reform   

About the Food Integrity Campaign
The Food Integrity Campaign was created in 2009 as a program of the Government Accountability Project to expose wrongdoing in industrial agriculture. By empowering industry whistleblowers to speak out against waste, fraud and abuse, FIC helps consumers make informed decisions that benefit their families, animals, workers, and the environment. Learn more at www.foodwhistleblower.org  

About the Organization for Competitive Markets
Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) is a membership-based public policy research and advocacy organization headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska. OCM was founded in 1998 by farmers, ranchers, attorneys, agricultural economists, rural sociologists and state legislators to challenge the growing income power disparities between agricultural producers and agribusinesses in the food system. OCM was founded on the premise that independent farmers and ranchers must ultimately survive and prosper by receiving fair and adequate compensation for their products through the marketplace. Learn more at www.competitivemarkets.com