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U.S. Agriculture Competition Rules Get Meat Axed By Industry And Congressional Pressure

Posted  January 11, 2012

Pressure from the U.S. meat industry and Congress has succeeded in trimming new competition rules designed to help farmers contained in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (“USDA”) final regulations for the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (“GIPSA”).

The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (the “2008 Farm Bill”) required the USDA to promulgate new, and clarify existing, GIPSA regulations on a wide variety of topics.  The final regulations represent a significant retreat from the proposed rules and demonstrate the political power of large industrial meat companies.

As directed by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill, the USDA proposed several changes to the relationship between farmers and meat packagers and processors.

Many industry observers have long criticized the power imbalance that exists between individual farmers, who have little bargaining leverage in the context of a multi-billion dollar industry, and large corporate meat dealers.  The proposed regulatory changes included rules that were intended to help level the playing field, such as creating definitions of competitive injury, unfair and unjust practices, and undue or unreasonable preferences or advantages.

None of those provisions survived a year of heated debate and lobbying by the meat industry.

In addition to the notice and comment process, Congress intervened before the USDA published its final rule to prohibit the agency from passing most of the competition-related reforms.  The provisions that did make it into the final rule, such as allowing farmers to decline mandatory arbitration provisions in growing contracts, have come under heavy criticism, and the meat industry will likely continue to push for their repeal or modification.

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