Farmers Lose Out to Corporate Interests in USDA Decision

Farmer Fair Practices Rule Rescinded, Leaving Contract Growers Vulnerable to Unfair Corporate Practices

Poultry House - USDA

USDA photo by Bob Nichols

Family farmers under contract with large meat companies were dealt a blow this month when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it had rescinded the Farmer Fair Practices Interim Final Rule. This common-sense rule would have allowed contracted growers to protect themselves from unfair, deceptive, or retaliatory practices from massive poultry processors or meat packers.

The vast majority of broiler chickens grown in the U.S. are raised by family farmers under contract with large companies. The companies provide the chicks, feed, and veterinary support, while the growers pay for the chicken houses and raise the birds, often going into deep debt. When the chickens reach slaughter-weight, farmers are forced into a “tournament system” for calculating their payment based on the weight of the birds and amount of feed used. This opaque system results in payments that can fluctuate significantly between flocks. It also pits farmers against one another in a system where a significant percentage of farmers will invariably lose.

Over the years, family farmers have raised concerns about this system and were heartened by the basic protections The Farmer Fair Practices Rule would have provided. For further background, check out this helpful overview of the rule by our friends at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

The announcement from USDA to rescind these protections shows that the current Department of Agriculture is more interested in protecting corporate profits than family farmers. With this decision, it is more important than ever to speak out in support of a food system that is fair to farmers, our environment, and public health.

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