Farm Aid and Family Farmers Discuss GIPSA’s New Regulations Governing Poultry-growing Contracts
By Brittany Vanderpool
On December 14, 2016, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) published a series of rules supporting poultry growers farming under contract with major poultry companies.
The trio of rules, called the “Farmer Fair Practice Rules,” address the long-criticized “tournament” payment system for poultry growers, as well as promote fair business practices and competitive environments to market livestock and poultry.
The new regulations are as follows:
- A rule to clarify that farmers are not required to prove that harms they have suffered as a result of poultry company violations have also caused harm to competition throughout the entire poultry sector.
- A rule to define the term “undue or unreasonable preference or advantage” and address practices like retaliatory actions against free association and free speech that many poultry growers have experienced for speaking out against company practices.
- A rule to address the “poultry grower ranking” payment system, also called the “tournament” system, used to force growers to compete against each other based largely on factors that are controlled by the company and not growers.
Said Carolyn Mugar, executive director of Farm Aid.
“The people who grow our food need a fair shake and the chance to make a decent living. The majority of chicken that Americans consume is produced in an industry where the power of a few giant corporations leaves farmers trapped in a rigged marketplace. We have worked to tell their stories and are pleased to see this important step in their fight for justice come to fruition.” Mugar applauded Secretary Vilsack and those who worked tirelessly at USDA “to ensure these critical protections for farmers saw the light of day.”
Last week, Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA) debuted its documentary, called Under Contract, on Capitol Hill with support from Farm Aid, National Family Farm Coalition, National Farmers Union, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and others. Under Contract tells the stories of poultry growers who have struggled with the current system, and shows why the way that the US does agribusiness must change in order to protect not only farmers, but also the food supply, from industry abuses.
On the heels of this announcement, Farm Aid, in partnership with RAFI-USA, is arranging interviews on what these new regulations mean for contract poultry growers, with the following US growers participating:
- Mike Weaver in West Virginia co-founded the Contract Poultry Growers Association of the Virginias to bring growers together and give them a voice against corporate abuses. He is also the president of the Organization for Competitive Markets.
- Craig Watts in North Carolina blew the whistle on the poultry industry in 2014, when he allowed his chicken houses to be filmed — believing that common industry practices compromised the safety of chicken sold to consumers. After facing retaliation from Perdue Farms Inc. for speaking out, Craig has become a vocal advocate for poultry growers.
- Reid Phifer in North Carolina grows for Pilgrim’s Pride, and has been in the business for over 20 years.
- Paul and Josi Brown in Mississippi are former growers for Tyson Foods. Together they raised chickens for almost 15 years before ending their contract when they realized they could not make enough money to pay the bills and avoid bankruptcy.
- Eric Hedrick in West Virginia recently ended his contract with Pilgrim’s Pride despite having the largest poultry operation in his area. He has grown chickens for over 14 years.
- Alicia Harvie, Farm Aid’s advocacy and issues director, guides the organization’s research and policy agenda on behalf of family farm agriculture.
Farm Aid’s mission is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America. Farm Aid artists and board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews host an annual concert to raise funds to support Farm Aid’s work with family farmers and to inspire people to choose family farm food.
Since 1985, Farm Aid, with the support of the artists who contribute their performances each year, has raised more than $50 million to help farmers thrive, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms. To learn more about Farm Aid and their work with farmers, visit www.farmaid.org.