Opinion: Congress seeks to drive out independent agriculture

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It apparently rings true that some politicians in Congress are like bananas: they come in green, turn yellow and then get rotten.

J. Dudley Butler

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J. Dudley Butler

Recently certain members of Congress began efforts to protect Big Ag and forgo meaningful regulations meant to protect small farmers and ranchers from abuses such as retaliation, bad faith, denial of due process and fraud.

Based on an obvious imbalance of power between small farmers and ranchers and Big Ag, in 2008 Congress directed USDA to write regulations to level the playing field for farmers and ranchers.

In 2010, USDA issued a package of important regulations to address inequities and to establish basic fair business standards for the livestock and poultry industries.

As administrator at the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), I was charged with writing these rules.

Part of these rules included common-sense protections for livestock and poultry farmers in their dealings with meatpackers and poultry companies, such as regulations ensuring that farmers and ranchers are protected against fraud, bad faith, denial of due process and retaliation.

Retaliation is the chief weapon used by poultry companies against growers who dare speak out against abuses, as Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Farm Aid’s Willie Nelson wrote last year.

Terminating the grower’s agreement with the company means almost certain foreclosure of the grower’s farm. This sends a stark message to other growers that “the company will not tolerate uppity growers, so get back in line or face the consequences.”

The regulations protecting against this are commonly referred to as the GIPSA rules.

However, after a shift in power in Congress, the Big-Ag-controlled politicians came up with a new method of chicanery – the “rider.”

A rider can be classified as a “reverse earmark.” It is specific language placed in an appropriations bill to prevent a department or agency from spending money on certain undertakings that Big Ag does not like.

The politicians are now trying to place such a provision in the 2017 Agriculture Appropriations Bill that prohibits the secretary from finalizing these regulations.

They used this provision in the 2015 Appropriations Bill to even force USDA to rescind certain poultry farmer protection regulations that were already in place.

And who is leading these efforts?

Look no further than Sen. Pat “Catfish” Roberts (R-KS).You see a catfish has a large mouth and usually keeps it open, hence the nickname.

Roberts is a shameless servant of Big Ag. So it is not surprising that he recently called a hearing of the Senate Agriculture Committee and loaded it with Big Ag minions toting the political water for industrial agriculture.

They were promoting a rider being placed in the FY 2017 Appropriations Bill to prevent the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from finalizing the GIPSA rules.

They railed that the agricultural world will be transformed into an unlivable wasteland if the regulations passed.

For years, these politicians and minions have assisted Big Ag in transforming a once productive family farm-based food system filled with proud men and women into an agricultural worldwide industry consisting of modern-day lords and serfs, plantation owners and sharecroppers.

Today’s industry even includes processing plant workers who cannot slow down the production line by taking a restroom break.

No, they are required to wear diapers so that Big Ag can maximize its profits. If the term “profits over people” needs exemplifying, this is it.

Catfish Roberts did not see fit to call yours truly to testify at his hearing even though I was the administrator at GIPSA charged with writing these rules.

He ranted against me personally at a 2011 Senate hearing, but I was not invited to that hearing either. In that hearing, he deliberately and knowingly misquoted me so that his untruths and propaganda would be memorialized in the congressional record.

There seems to be a pattern here.

Even though there are literally hundreds of thousands of farmers, ranchers and consumers that support the proposed GIPSA rules, Catfish Roberts did not see fit to call any of them to testify.

Although contract poultry growers are some of the most mistreated farmers in agriculture, as HBO host John Oliver explained last year, Roberts did not see fit to call any of them to testify either.

Yes, he would rather move forward with his agenda of glad-handling corporate lobbyist and doing their biding.

Catfish Roberts is against traditional common-sense food labeling such as GMO labeling and country of origin labeling.

He is against limiting the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.

The absurdity goes farther.

More than three years ago, Catfish Roberts lead an effort to replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center from Long Island to Manhattan, Kansas. The more than $1.2 billion national bio and agro-defense facility is set to be built on the campus of Kansas State University.

Catfish Roberts must be aware that more than 80 percent of the land in Kansas is used for agriculture production and is in the middle of cattle country.

Yet he claimed it will create several hundred jobs.

Never mind that studies have shown that diseases contained within this facility will escape and that experts say it is just a matter of time.

Never mind that this facility contains strains of extremely devastating diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease. When an outbreak occurs, this disease – so contagious that it will spread like wildfire – will infect, impair or kill every cloven-footed animal (pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, deer, antelope, elk, buffalo and others) within hundreds of miles of the facility.

So why would a senator from Kansas abandon independent farmers and ranchers for the sake of Big Ag? Campaign contributions and the lust for power are the obvious answers.

Wake up, people. Speak up, people. Time is running out.

The independence and fair treatment of these farmers and ranchers is essential to ensure a safe and sustainable food supply for ourselves, our children and their children. We cannot allow Big Ag to gain a chokehold on their marketplace.


About J. Dudley Butler 

Dudley Butler returned to the practice of law in 2012 after serving as Administrator of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration for almost three years. He was appointed to this position by United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Butler’s leadership greatly improved the relationship between the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice and he spearheaded the creation of the first USDA/DOJ task force to address corporate concentration in the livestock and poultry industries. Under Butler’s leadership the rights of family farmers and ranchers were enhanced by the passage of new regulations and the vigorous enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act.

Butler has been an attorney for over four decades.  He has served as a mediator and an arbitrator. His practice has primarily focused on farm and ranch related disputes as well as other agricultural related matters.  In addition to working on the matters, he has been involved in his own cattle, timber and farming operations in Mississippi as well as Wyoming.  He has also been an active member of numerous livestock and farm organizations.  He has testified before Congress on matters involving agriculture and arbitration.  He has worked on both the state and national level to protect the rights of farmers and ranchers.

This column reflects the writer's own opinions and not those of The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.