Farmers and Ranchers Sue USDA for Tossing Farmer Fair Practices (GIPSA) Rule

Small farmers and ranchers have had enough.

USDA on Flickr

In mid-October, the USDA announced that it is officially discarding the Farmer Fair Practices Rule, sometimes known as the GIPSA Rule.

In response, Democracy Forward, a nonprofit legal group that mostly challenges decisions by the Executive Branch, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of independent farmers and ranchers, and the Organization for Competitive Markets (a think tank dedicated to fair practices in agriculture). The suit claims that it is unlawful of the Trump administration to discard the Farmer Fair Practices Rule, and that it will hurt farmers and ranchers while benefitting agribusiness.

To catch you up: the Farmer Fair Practices Rule (FFPR) is an Obama-era legislation designed to protect farmers and ranchers who contract with agribusiness corporations. The majority of independent livestock operations in the country are not actually independent in any meaningful way. Typically, these independent operators supply exclusively to one gigantic corporation, and they, essentially, must follow that corporation’s rules and whims. In the case of chicken operations, roughly 97 percent of independent chicken farms are contracted to an agribusiness corporation like Tyson; that corporation will supply the chicks, the farmer raises them to slaughtering age, and the corporation picks up the chickens later.

This model gives big agribusiness corporations insane power; they can demand expensive changes or upgrades without spending a penny of their own. If the farmer goes out of business? Who cares. The corporations can also blackball farmers for basically any reason, or play favorites. There are only a handful of these corporations, and each work in different parts of the country; each has an effective monopoly.

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The FFPR, sometimes called the GIPSA Rule—GIPSA stands for Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, which is the sub-department that ensures fairness in the industry—was designed to even the playing field a touch. It would allow for more legal power for farmers by broadening the criteria for unfair practices, and would require corporations demanding changes to farms or contracts to allow for more arbitration and time to adjust. Almost immediately, lawsuits against the corporations were filed.

The Trump administration delayed implementation of the FFPR for months before finally discarding it. That decision was applauded, of course, by the corporations and the representatives in Congress who take their money. Those corporations have attempted to call the FFPR “controversial,” claiming that the ability for farmers to sue them would clog up the courts with lawsuits. This is probably true! But it is a strange argument to insist that corporations should not be held responsible for their actions just because it requires a lawsuit to do so.

Democracy Forward, on behalf of some of these farmers, has filed a petition for review, which is a formal request to re-examine the decision to discard the FFPR. The petition alleges that the withdrawal of FFPR is “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to the PSA.” (The PSA is the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921, the original bill designed to keep the agribusiness industry honest.)

Democracy Forward is calling for the FFPR to be reinstated. You can read the entire petition here.

Farmers and Ranchers Sue USDA for Tossing Farmer Fair Practices (GIPSA) Rule