Brand new rules protect poultry farmers from corporate power. But will the Trump team enforce them?
In its waning days, President Barack Obama’s US Department of Agriculture injected an extra dose of drama into President-elect Donald Trump’s chaotic transition of the ag department this week.
The USDA issued a blunt assessment of the state of the poultry industry, portraying it as dominated by a handful of chicken processors that “often wield market power” against the farmers who raise the nations’ chickens, “treating them unfairly, suppressing how much they are paid, or pitting them against each other.” The USDA has a point, as Christopher Leonard showed in his excellent 2014 book The Meat Racket(my review here): Farmers own the growing facilities and are responsible for upgrading them according to the companies’ whims, while the companies supply the chicks and the feed and dictate the price farmers are paid.
And it put substance behind the critique, rolling out long-delayed proposed rules designed to give chicken farmers “protections against the most egregious retaliatory practices” used by the big companies. The USDA has been required to release a version of these rules, known as GIPSA, since being charged to do so by the 2008 farm bill, but GOP stalwarts in the US House have been pushing back ever since, using legislative chicanery to block them. This 2015 Washington Monthly piece by Lina Khan details the Obama USDA’s tortured and—until now—failed attempts to release the rules. The farmers’ rights group RAFI has a good summary of what’s in them.