The word came out last week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had sent a truncated version of a new livestock marketing rule to the Office of Management and Budget. USDA is asking OMB to make those rules final.
They are known as the GIPSA rules for the agency that wrote them, the Grain Inspections, Packers and Stockyards Administration. The rules, as they were first written more than a year ago, were aimed at giving hog, cattle and poultry farmers greater power in the marketplace. And they were controversial.
It appears that the power of the regulations has been diminished. The rules that helped chicken and hog producers (many of whom work under contract with large meat buyers) were the least changed, it appears. (The exact wording hasn’t been released.) The parts of the rule affecting cattle were reportedly being held by USDA for further review.
Those supporting the rules are extremely upset. Here is National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson:
“The final and interim final rules do not address any of the issues facing beef producers. A rapidly concentrating marketplace has already hit poultry and pork producers hard. A proactive rule must be put in place to prevent the same fate from befalling ranchers and cattlemen.
“Misleading economic studies of the GIPSA rule, funded by packer-producer organizations, used flawed assertions about the impacts of the rule and claimed that thousands of jobs would be lost, that the rule would cost billions of dollars, and that retail meat prices would increase. In order to make these claims, the studies assumed that all premium programs would be eliminated, used an arbitrary meat retail price increase assumption, and did not take into account the losses that many producers are currently suffering. An economic study is only as good as its assumptions, and the assertions of these studies are not grounded in fact.
“NFU is encouraged to see parts of the GIPSA rule advanced, but much more work has yet to be done. The most critical aspects of the GIPSA rule must be finalized in order to prevent further damage to rural America.”
Here is Food and Water Watch:
“The exact details of the final rule are not available, but it is clear that the administration has caved to meat industry pressure to abandon independent hog and cattle producers to unfair treatment at the hands of the large meatpackers. Cattle and hog producers should not have to wait another year or two for USDA to consider what is fair and unfair pricing; they have already waited more than 90 years since the Packers & Stockyards Act directed the agency to prevent unfair meatpacker abuses in 1921. USDA should immediately finish the livestock provisions and make them final.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association opposed the rules, so they were a bit more upbeat, but still wary about the pending cattle rules. This is part of an email sent out by Colin Woodall, NCBA VP for government affairs:
Even though many of these actions are positive, the fight is not over. By law, USDA must define undue preference and unfair practices. Even though they have postponed that action, they told us they were reviewing those provisions and the provisions relating to competitive injury for a future re-proposed rule. We have to stay engaged in order to prevent this from happening.
• Thousands of people marched into downtown Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, Sunday in a community rally against drug and alcohol abuse. (See photo above.) The people held a prayer service and a concert at the end of their march, which they call “Stand in the Gap.”
The Knoxville paper reports:
The mass gathering brought together people representing more than 200 area church congregations in Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia to pray for addicts and their families, for law enforcement and judges, and most of all for guidance on how to confront the issue.
“That’s what it was all about, calling on God to intervene,” said Dr. Edwin Robertson, a longtime Claiborne County veterinarian who helped organize the event. “Unless the Lord gives us the wisdom, we’ll have another generation lost.”
• The Washington Post’s business columnist Steve Pearlstein rants about the transformation of land and food into commodities traded by pension funds and investment banks. And, he says, yes, there is a bubble in these markets.
• On that note, Philip Brasher writes that there is no end in sight for the ag boom, but still, nothing lasts forever. He describes how the good times might taper off.
• Author and food activist Michael Pollan says that “really intelligent young people are getting into farming. Some will crash and burn, but someone will be the Steve Jobs of agriculture.”
What does that mean? (That somebody will figure out how to get cheap Chinese labor to make our ibread?) Pollan says:
I think the challenge is going to be to come up with farming systems that are sustainable, by which I mean don’t require a lot of fossil fuel and that are nevertheless quite intensive. The ability to produce large amounts of food in small spaces.
We have some examples. I think Joel Salatin is a possible contender. Will Allen, the urban farmer who has a very complex system involving fish and greens and other vegetables, where fish waste feeds the greens and the greens clean the water for the fish. So I’m talking about people who can come up with new rotations and new relationships between species to maximize production. I think there is a lot of experimenting going on.
• Iowa and Nebraska are withdrawing from a group of Missouri River states and tribes over a disagreement over how the river should be managed, the AP reports.
The Iowa governor’s office said that state is leaving the Missouri River Association of States and Tribes because Montana has not promised to use more aggressive flood control measures. Floods on the Missouri are still bedeviling communities in Missouri and Iowa.
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer has said that stronger flood control measures in his upstream state will infringe on his state’s wildlife and recreation industries.