In this file:

 

·         NPR: The USDA Rolled Back Protections For Small Farmers. Now They're Suing

… The lawsuit, filed by the Organization for Competitive Markets — a small-farmers think tank based in Lincoln, Neb. — and three farmer plaintiffs, did not shake the halls of Congress. Nor will it go viral on social media. But to the 40,000 contract poultry farmers, 900,000 cattle ranchers, and 70,000 hog farmers in America's heartland whose interests it seeks to represent, the lawsuit represents the tip of an iceberg of financial and emotional despair…

 

·         AP: Lawsuit Challenges Cancellation of Farmer Fair Practice Rule

Farmers in Alabama and Nebraska have joined a fair trade group to sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the cancellation of rules that would have made it easier for farmers to demand better treatment when they contract with meatpacking companies.

 

 

The USDA Rolled Back Protections For Small Farmers. Now They're Suing

 

Nancy Matsumoto, NPR

December 14, 2017

 

An organization representing the interests of small farmers across rural America fired a legal salvo Thursday aimed at a Trump administration they feel has let them down.

 

The lawsuit, filed by the Organization for Competitive Markets — a small-farmers think tank based in Lincoln, Neb. — and three farmer plaintiffs, did not shake the halls of Congress. Nor will it go viral on social media. But to the 40,000 contract poultry farmers, 900,000 cattle ranchers, and 70,000 hog farmers in America's heartland whose interests it seeks to represent, the lawsuit represents the tip of an iceberg of financial and emotional despair.

 

At issue is the Trump administration's withdrawal of two Obama-era rules designed to protect small farmers, who say they are being exploited by the meatpacking companies they supply.

 

The suit, filed on behalf of OCM by the Capitol Hill legal watchdog Democracy Forward, charges U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and his agency with "arbitrary and capricious" behavior in rolling back those two rules. One of them would have made it easier for individual farmers to sue for anti-competitive behavior.

 

Many of the farmers affected by the rollback supported Donald Trump for president, believing his promise to look after their interests. Now, the disillusionment is setting in.

 

West Virginia poultry farmer Mike Weaver is one of them; he says the feeling now among small farmers and ranchers is, "Where's the support that you promised us? We voted for you because you were going to make things right, and it's not happening."

 

Thursday's lawsuit is an attempt to put legal muscle behind the frustrations of farmers and ranchers over a highly consolidated meatpacking system.

 

"Four packers control 82 percent of the market," explains Joe Maxwell, executive director of OCM, "and they've carved the country into regions and don't compete with each other. Farmers feel threatened by packers because in their area, there's only one choice."

 

Weaver says contract poultry farmers like himself are wooed by slick sales pitches from meatpackers, then "have to put their home in hock" to raise the $1.5 million to $2 million it takes to start a poultry operation. "Then you have to take what the companies give you," he adds, "or take your chances on losing the farm. Companies abuse that, shamefully."

 

The rolled-back rules are known as GIPSA — short for the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration, the arm of the USDA tasked with promoting fair and competitive practices in the industry. Large meatpackers, represented by agribusiness lobby members such as the National Chicken Council, the National Pork Producers Council and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, counter that adopting the rules would have lowered the bar for farmers to sue meatpackers for anti-competitive behavior and invited frivolous and costly litigation, resulting in higher prices for consumers...

 

... One of the challenges in mounting the new suit, says OCM's Maxwell, has been the difficulty of finding farmer plaintiffs — most are too afraid of retaliation to speak up.

 

"When you just have one buyer, you can't go out and start talking about why the market is wrong when that buyer can walk away and bankrupt you," Maxwell says. "It's put a gag order on America's family farmer and threatened their livelihood."

 

Patterson of the National Farmers' Union agrees. "The fear in the countryside on this is palpable," she says...

 

more, including links

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/12/14/570889309/the-usda-rolled-back-protections-for-small-farmers-now-theyre-suing

 

 

Lawsuit Challenges Cancellation of Farmer Fair Practice Rule

Farmers in Alabama and Nebraska have joined a fair trade group to sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the cancellation of rules that would have made it easier for farmers to demand better treatment when they contract with meatpacking companies.

 

By DAVID PITT, Associated Press

via U.S. News & World Report - Dec. 14, 2017

 

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Farmers in Alabama and Nebraska joined with a Nebraska-based fair trade group Thursday to sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the agency's cancellation of an Obama-era plan that would have made it easier for farmers to demand better treatment when they contract with meatpacking companies.

 

The lawsuit seeks to reverse the USDA's October decision to vacate the Farmer Fair Practices Rule — regulations that would have, among other things, reduced the burden of proof farmers face to sue over contracts and practices they believe are unfair, discriminatory or deceptive.

 

"We know from decades of evidence that massive agribusiness companies don't hesitate to use their power to abuse these farmers, and the Farmer Fair Practices Rule was a crucial step to restoring fairness in the market," said Anne Harkavy, executive director of nonprofit legal group Democracy Forward, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Lincoln, Nebraska-based Organization for Competitive Markets; Nebraska farmer James Dinklage; and Alabama farm couple Jonathan and Connie Buttram. "It should be restored either by USDA, or by the court."

 

USDA spokesman Jake Wilkins declined to comment, saying the agency doesn't discuss pending litigation.

 

The rules were first proposed by the USDA in 2010 but were not released until last December in the final days of President Barack Obama's administration. They were scheduled to take effect on April 22, but President Donald Trump's administration delayed them for six months before the USDA announced in October that it would not implement them.

 

The suit, filed in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, alleges Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue ignored thousands of comments in public hearings and submitted in writing and unlawfully sidestepped directives in the 2008 Farm Bill mandating some of the rules be enacted.

 

Trade groups for the meatpacking industry, including the National Chicken Council and the National Pork Producers Council, had complained that the rules would lead to costly lawsuits and would reduce competition.

 

Some companies, such as Tyson Foods and Pilgrim's Pride, require chicken and pork producers to enter into contracts that farmers say set their compensation at unprofitably low levels and force them deeply into debt.

 

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 rules would have eased that high burden of proof.

 

The elimination of the rules has helped large multinational corporations get the upper hand on farmers...

 

more

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/iowa/articles/2017-12-14/lawsuit-challenges-cancellation-of-farmer-fair-practice-rule