Farmers’ group challenges USDA rollback of Obama-era guidelines


A group of farmers is suing the Department of Agriculture (USDA), hoping to reestablish rules set in place by the Obama administration–regarding their rights against large agriculture companies–called GIPSA (the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Act).

GIPSA, revoked in October, had not yet taken effect but it would have modified the poultry grower ranking system, as well as addressed livestock buying practices, which had been deemed anticompetitive. Specifically, it would have expanded independent farmers’ rights to sue big agriculture companies for which they raise livestock.

At issue are concerns that small farmers can be retaliated against with no recourse.

Under current law, if a small farmer has an issue with a large company, courts require them to show that the whole market was hurt by the company’s actions. The Obama-era rule would have changed that factor so that harm to the individual farmer would be considered.

Under President Donald J. Trump, the USDA killed the rule before it could take effect because they said it would have been detrimental to the meat industry.

According to law blogger Brianna J. Schroeder, those who approved of GIPSA’s elimination said it would have opened “the litigation floodgates.” Schroeder lays out the two points of view succinctly:

Packers and integrators praised Trump, saying the rule would have lessened competition, stifled innovation, and increased costly litigation.

Some farmer groups criticized Trump’s move, because the Rule would have made it easier for them to prove that a meat packing or processing’s actions were illegal, without having to prove that those actions harmed the entire industry. 

According to NPR, the suit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis last week–charging the USDA with “arbitrary and capricious” behavior–by the Organization for Competitive Markets, a “small-farmers think tank based in Lincoln, Neb.,” according to the NPR.

Three farmer plaintiffs also joined the suit: two poultry farmers and a beef cattle farmer. Poultry farmer Mike Weaver, who reportedly told Bloomberg he voted for Trump, is “disappointed” that this administration threw out the debated rule.

“I’m quite disappointed in the fact that the president hasn’t followed through on promises to help the little guy, including family farmers,” Weaver reportedly said. “If it takes legal action to accomplish things that should be done otherwise, then that’s what we’re going to do.”

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