USDA announces extension to GIPSA comment period

In late July, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) responded to calls to extend the comment period for the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration’s (GIPSA) proposed rule on livestock marketing.

Concerns expressed by Congress, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and other leading agriculture organizations led to the 90-day extension of the comment period for the proposed rule that suggests major changes to the way producers can market their livestock.

During a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on livestock on July 20, 2010, both Democrats and Republicans expressed to USDA that the scope of GIPSA goes well beyond what Congress intended under the 2008 Farm Bill. Industry groups echoed the concern.

“Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle were very clear about the critical need to extend the comment period to allow stakeholders to thoroughly analyze the potential impacts of the rule,” said Colin Woodall, NCBA vice president of government affairs. “While it’s unfortunate USDA didn’t extend the comment period for a full 120 days as we requested, we’re pleased that stakeholders will have some additional time to further analyze this complex rule and its potential implications on the beef sector, which is the largest segment of the food and fiber industry.

“On the surface, this rule has the potential to take the beef industry back 30 years by stifling the innovative efforts of U.S. cattle producers to add value and enhance the quality and safety of their products for consumers in the United States and abroad.”

While it welcomed the extension of the comment period on it, the NPPC said the proposed rule on the buying and selling of livestock and poultry will be a disaster for producers. According to a review by NPPC, the rule would dictate the terms of contracts, restrict marketing arrangements, require reams of paperwork, create legal uncertainty and limit producers’ ability to negotiate better prices for the animals they sell.

“That’s a recipe for stifling innovation, driving up costs, forcing simple contract disputes into court and — given those adverse consequences — compelling packers to own their animals rather than to contract with farmers like me to raise them,” said Sam Carney, NPPC president.

GIPSA does, however, have strong supporters in the agricultural industry. According to the National Farmers Union, GIPSA addresses concerns that have been discussed for many years and were developed at the direction of the 2008 Farm Bill that requires USDA to carry out specific rulemaking to improve fairness in the marketing of livestock and poultry.

“Extension of this comment period gives leverage for packers to offer lower prices to producers as a fear mechanism, which we have seen in the past with rules such as Country of Origin Labeling,” said Roger Johnson, NFU president. “NFU is an organization of producers and opposes the further extension of this comment period.”

The 2008 Farm Bill stated this rule was to be fully completed by June 18, 2010, another reason NFU is displeased with further extension of the comment period. A 30-day extension would have allowed for plenty of time.

“This rule is for the protection of the producers and USDA has allowed for a sufficient amount of time to comment,” Johnson said. “Further extending the deadline is proof that USDA is buckling under the pressure of industry. The focus needs to be on the producers. While USDA is taking a step in the right direction with this rule, the process needs to be expedited instead of slowed down.”

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