Feathers fly over poultry rider in House bill

Differences between House and Senate Agriculture Department spending bills related to poultry regulations have sparked an intense lobbying battle this week. 

The issue relates to implementation of 2008 changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act favored by livestock and poultry growers but opposed by processors.   

Proponents say the new rules are needed to end unfair marketplace practices by giant food companies by making contracts with farmers more transparent, but opponents say the regulations are economically burdensome and target non-existent problems. 

For years, appropriations bills have blocked the USDA from fully implementing the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rules but this year’s farm bill saw a victory for growers because GIPSA changes were left out of the final package. 

The American Meat Institute, National Cattleman’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation and North American Meat Association all vowed to oppose the 2014 farm bill in part because GIPSA was left out in a Jan. 27 letter to the leaders of the Agriculture committees. NCC in the end supported the farm bill, spokesman Tom Super said. 

Now the processor groups have struck back. 

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The House Appropriations Committee this week unveiled a newly GIPSA rider that opponents say is more restrictive than existing spending law. The rider is not in the Senate companion bill also being considered in committee this week.

In particular, the House rider forces the USDA to rescind a completed rule forcing poultry integrators to give farmers a 90-day notice before it suspends delivery of baby birds to a farmer. 

Farm groups like the National Farmers Union (NFU) and 167 other farmer groups say the rider allows processors to strong-arm farmers into accepting less-favorable contracts. Opponents of the rule argue that most poultry companies have been contracting with growers for decades without any problems.

“The language in Sec. 730 of the FY2015 Agriculture Appropriations Committee bill is consistent with the provision passed by Congress four times and signed by the president. This issue should not be controversial as over 150 members of Congress have made their position clear,” National Chicken Council President Mike Brown said.

The NFU blasted the rider in its own statement.

“NFU appreciates the outspoken opposition to this rider by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, during the subcommittee markup and urge the full Appropriations Committee in the House to follow suit and remove it,” NFU President Roger Johnson said.

The full House Appropriations Committee will take up the agriculture spending bill next week, when amendments are expected.