The USDA Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) announced April 11 it is delaying the effective date of the Farmer Fair Practices Interim Final Rule an additional 180 days, until Oct. 19, according to a news release.
During a new 60-day comment period, the public can weigh in on whether the USDA should let the rule become effective, suspend the rule indefinitely, delay the effective date of the rule further or withdraw the rule.
Given the significant public interest in this rule, GIPSA has found that the initial delay of the effective date to April 22 will likely not provide sufficient time for the USDA to adequately consider all comments received and make informed policy decisions regarding this rule, said Randall D. Jones, acting GIPSA administrator.
“The extension allows ample time for stakeholders to review the effects of the Scope Interim Final Rule on their operations, and ensures maximum opportunity for dialogue across every segment of the livestock, meat and poultry industries,” said Jones.
The rule was first proposed by the USDA in 2010 but was met with resistance in Congress and by the meat processing industry. It was delayed until the USDA released it in December.
Farmer advocacy groups, including the National Farmers Union and The American Farm Bureau Federation, support the rule, but trade groups are fighting it.
“With this extension notice, it is clear the administration has recognized this is a complicated and controversial issue with deep economic consequences for American poultry and livestock producers,” said National Chicken Council President Mike Brown.
National Pork Producers Council President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Ill., wants the rule withdrawn for good.
He said it would reduce competition, stifle innovation and “provide no benefits to anyone other than trial lawyers and activist groups that will use the rule to attack the livestock industry.”
“This is another step toward common sense and away from counterproductive government intrusion in the free market,” said NCBA President Craig Uden of GIPSA’s action.
“That said, while a delay is welcome, ultimately this rule should be killed and American cattle producers should be free to market our beef without the threat of government-sanctioned frivolous lawsuits.”
The rule would make it easier for farmers to sue companies they contract with over unfair, discriminatory or deceptive practices, according to the Associated Press.
Currently, several court rulings have interpreted federal law as saying a farmer must prove a company’s actions harm competition in the entire industry before a lawsuit can move forward. The rule eases that high burden of proof.
Mike Weaver, president of the Organization for Competitive Markets, said in a news release the Trump administration needs to swiftly enact the new Farmer Fair Practices Rules.
“This will be the third time USDA has asked for comments on this rule. Every time family farmers comment in favor of the rule, USDA delays and opens a new comment period,” Weaver said.
Many farmers hope Trump’s nominee for agriculture secretary, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, will act on their behalf, said Sally Lee, program director at the North Carolina-based Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, a nonprofit family farm advocacy group.
Genell Pridgen of Snow Hill, N.C., stopped contracting with meat companies and now runs her family farm independently. She fears the rule will be killed.
“It’s very disheartening,” said Pridgen. “It’s really an injustice for farmers who’ve been waiting for many years.”