Billings, Mont. In formal correspondence sent today to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), R-CALF USA requested that GIPSA resist any effort to extend the public comment period established in the agency's proposed rule titled "Implementation of Regulations Required Under Title XI of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008; Conduct in Violation of the Act," (Proposed Rule) published at 75 Fed. Reg., 35338-354 (June 22, 2010).
Comments are due Aug. 23, 2010, and three groups the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the American Meat Institute (AMI) and the National Pork Producers Council already are requesting a 120-day extension beyond that date, and such an extension would effectively delay any opportunity for the publishing of a final rule until sometime in 2011.
These three trade associations primarily represent the interests of the highly concentrated meatpacking industry and they essentially argue that the Proposed Rule addresses novel issues that they have not had adequate time to evaluate. However, these groups have long fought against some or all of the very reforms contained in the Proposed Rule and already have made up their minds regarding the Proposed Rule, and therefore, R-CALF USA argues that no delay is warranted.
"As far back as at least 2001 for example, both NCBA and the NPPC formally voiced their objections to granting USDA new authority to "regulate corporate relationships, commercial practices and contracts for the production of agricultural commodities,' and, at the same time, they also have objected to any new laws that would address competition-related issues," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard. "In 2001, NCBA and the NPPC wrote, "Creating new laws in an already complex regulatory environment is unnecessary and could result in serious unintended consequences.'"
Additionally, NCBA, AMI and the NPPC each are members of the Meat and Poultry Promotion Coalition that has long fought against a key provision within the Proposed Rule, and as long ago as 2007, the trio jointly sent a letter to Congress in full opposition to the provision that would free producers from having to show harm to competition in order to be protected by the PSA, when the three groups wrote in regard to that important provision: "In any event, such a provision is virtually certain to have a chilling effect on current producer/processor relationships."
"The fact that AMI, NCBA and the NPPC now cite their same, timeless objections to the Proposed Rule does not indicate these groups need more time for evaluation, but instead, it indicates the likelihood that these groups merely seek a delay in any new regulations that would limit any marketing practices of meatpackers," Bullard pointed out. "An extension would be extremely detrimental to the interests of hundreds of thousands of U.S. livestock producers and poultry producers who continue to experience profound, competition-related problems in the marketing of their livestock and poultry."
The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 Farm Bill), enacted into law in June 2008, recognized the profound competition-related problems in U.S. livestock and poultry markets and amended the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA) to rectify several of those issues. The 2008 Farm Bill also directed GIPSA to, among other things, promulgate regulations to clarify the PSA's prohibition against the making or giving of an undue preference or advantage.
"U.S. livestock producers, therefore, already have been denied the congressionally mandated reforms and regulations required by the 2008 Farm Bill for over two years and should not be subjected to any further delays in the regulatory rulemaking process, as would most certainly occur if GIPSA were to extend the already adequate 60-day public comment period for the Proposed Rule," the letter points out. "Moreover, the Proposed Rule, pursuant to GIPSA's existing authority under the nearly 90-year-old PSA, addresses additional competition-related problems the agency itself has discovered. Included among these additional problems are livestock procurement practices that are an affront to competition.
The dire need for GIPSA to immediately address such additional problems is evidenced by a 2006 audit conducted by USDA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) that found not only was the Packers and Stockyards Program (PSP) not performing competition and complex investigations, but also, the PSP had failed since 1997 to remedy substantive deficiencies in its operations.
"Thus, disaggregated independent livestock producers and poultry producers have been deprived of the congressionally mandated protections contained in the PSA for well over a decade"because the PSP did not provide proper oversight or enforcement of the PSA, and presumably allowed the concentrated meatpacking industry, with its considerable market power, to operate in the marketplace with impunity," the letter continues. "Independent livestock and poultry producers have an absolute right to the market protections afforded by the PSA, and GIPSA should proceed posthaste to expeditiously catch up on its responsibilities to independent producers that for so long have been ignored."
"GIPSA should not facilitate an undue delay of its current rulemaking process by granting an extension of time to groups that already have signaled contempt for any competition-related reforms," the letter concludes. "For the foregoing reasons, R-CALFUSA respectfully requests that GIPSA stand firm on its original, 60-day comment period as established in its Proposed Rule, thus leaving intact the Aug. 23, 2010, deadline for receiving public comments."
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R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALFUSA represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on trade and marketing issues. Members are located across 47 states and are primarily cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and/or feedlot owners. R-CALFUSA directors and committee chairs are extremely active unpaid volunteers. R-CALFUSA has dozens of affiliate organizations and various main-street businesses are associate members. For more information, visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516.