Board member Douglas Naphas writes:
I plan to raise a motion at the general membership meeting on 10/24/11. I will propose that we support a letter to be sent by Food and Water Watch to Senator Bob Casey endorsing a set of US Department of Agriculture regulations known as the Fair Farm Rules.
Food and Water Watch (www.foodandwaterwatch.org) is a national non-profit organization that runs various campaigns related to environmental quality and fairness in the food system. In their Fair Farm Bill campaign they advocate for reforms to American agricultural policy to make small farms better able to compete against large producers. As part of this campaign, they are sending their letter to Senator Casey supporting a specific set of proposed regulations that would prohibit companies that buy animals for meat production from giving better prices to large farms. They currently do this because the smaller farms have a weaker bargaining position than the large farms.
I think this issue concerns Friends of Clark Park because the park hosts a farmer’s market for small agricultural producers of the kind who would benefit from the proposed provisions. I personally support the provisions because they would diminish the cost advantage currently enjoyed by large animal farms that raise animals in cramped conditions, factory farms. Some like-minded organizations to ours have already supported the letter, including Farm to City, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, and Penn Future.
The text of my motion will be as follows: I move that Friends of Clark Park permit Food and Water Watch to list us as supporting its letter to Senator Bob Casey endorsing the Fair Farm Rules.
The text of the letter is copied below. The Fair Farm Rules are available online at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/2010-14875.pdf.
Letter to Senator Casey
Dear Senator Casey,
The undersigned local, farm, consumer, environmental, social justice, and public health organizations urge you to stand up for Pennsylvania’s consumers and family farmers by supporting the Fair Farm Rules that were included in the 2008 Farm Bill. These rules are critical in ensuring that family farmers are able to viably complete in our food market and that consumers therefore have access to quality, independently produced food.
Our food system is not working for those who produce food or for those who eat it. Many farmers cannot make a living from farming, due to the corporate consolidation of our livestock industry. Because of unfair contracting practices, small and independent farmers are not paid the fair prices for their livestock necessary to maintain a competitive market that provides healthy and sustainable food choices to consumers. Gains made in the 2008 Farm Bill that can help address these problems are now in jeopardy. We look to you for leadership in ensuring that these gains are not just preserved, but expanded in the 2012 Farm Bill.
In the 2008 Farm Bill, Congress directed the USDA to issue rules that address the unfair, deceptive, and anti-competitive trade practices that have become rampant in the livestock and poultry sectors. Despite meatpacker and poultry company opposition, Congress included language in the final Farm Bill requiring the USDA to use their existing authority under the 1921 Packers & Stockyard Act to take action. The Packers & Stockyard Act was signed 90 years ago to prevent meatpackers and processors from using unfair or deceptive practices against farmers and ranchers who sell them livestock.
USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) issued a proposed rule to address these unfair meatpacker and poultry company practices in June 2010. These are the Fair Farm Rules, and they include many commonsense measures that protect farmers, growers and ranchers from abusive and unfair treatment by meatpackers and poultry companies.
The safeguards in the Fair Farm Rules include:
-The prohibition of company retaliation against farmers for speaking out about unfair practices. This safeguard will allow farmers to voice concerns over unfair industry practices with federal officials without fear of economic reprisal.
-Sensible protections for contract poultry and hog growers. Poultry and hog companies often require growers and producers to make expensive and often unnecessary upgrades to their facilities. This safeguard will protect growers from being forced to make unnecessary investments when their farms are already in good working order.
-Requirements to provide growers and ranchers with information necessary to make wise business decisions regarding their operations.
-Disclosure and transparency requirements to eliminate deception in the way packers, swine contractors and poultry companies pay farmers.
-Eliminating collusion between packers in auction markets.
-Clarifying the definitions of “unfair,” “unjustly discriminatory,” or “unreasonable preferences” under the law. These are all terms used in the existing statute to prevent unfair trade practices, but these broad terms have never been defined in regulations. Providing necessary clarity will help USDA enforce the law to prevent meatpackers from using unfair practices and contract terms against farmers.
-Eliminating further ambiguities existing in the Packers & Stockyards Act that lead to difficulties addressing unfair practices.
-Expressly ensuring that price premiums can be paid for premium livestock. Currently some meatpackers offer sweetheart deals to favored, typically larger, producers, and lower prices to medium-sized producers even when they deliver the same quality and number of livestock. This safeguard would eliminate this practice, and ensure that all farmers receive the same price premiums for delivering higher quality livestock.
The safeguards included in the Fair Farm Rules are a necessary step to reforming our food system to increase fairness and competition. Farmers cannot wait for these rules to be finalized and implemented – it has been three years since the Farm Bill passed and nearly a year and a half since the proposed rules were released. Unfortunately, under pressure from meatpackers and poultry companies, the rules have not yet been finalized. The USDA has yet to release the final rules, and the House approved a legislative rider in its FY2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill that would prevent the USDA from taking any further action on this regulation. The meatpackers and poultry companies oppose the sensible transparency and disclosure provisions of the proposed rules that would shine light onto their unfair practices.
However, there is a strong movement to oppose the delaying or derailing of the Fair Farm Rules. The two largest general farm organizations in the United States – the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union – as well as over 140 other farmer, consumer and community groups across the nation oppose the House effort to stop USDA from finishing the rules. More than 190 groups have opposed any Senate efforts to delay or derail the livestock rules.
We urge you to stand with Pennsylvania’s farmers, livestock producers, growers and consumers and advocate for the administration to release the final rules and oppose any efforts to weaken, defund, or otherwise thwart implementation of strong livestock rules. We urge you write a letter to President Obama asking for swift implementation of strong rules and publicly urge your colleagues in the Senate to defend them in the budget or any other legislative process.