Fighting for Livestock Farmers' Rights

What do funding the government and free speech for livestock farmers have in common? If you guessed GIPSA, the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration rider, you are correct!  

The 2015 Appropriations process, where Congress passes bills to fund the government for the next fiscal year, is currently on the federal legislative agenda.  Initially, Congress considers 12 separate spending bills to fund different federal agencies and departments, and by the end of the process, these bills are often combined into a package of bills that may include an extension of previous year funding levels for some or all agencies. Among the 12 bills is the Agriculture Appropriations Bill, which funds the USDA, FDA, and other related agencies. Both the House and the Senate Appropriations Committees have passed Agriculture Appropriations Bills, but neither bill has passed its respective full Chamber.

One contentious issue is a provision in the House Ag Appropriations Bill called the GIPSA rider. GIPSA is the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, a USDA agency charged in 2008 with writing and enforcing regulations to protect small, independent farmers in their dealings with huge meat and poultry companies. This rider is a package of policies that drastically restricts GIPSA’s ability to protect certain First Amendment rights for farmers by preventing the agency from enforcing these regulations that have been in the making for years, but have been consistently thwarted by powerful meat industry companies.

This year is no different. During committee deliberations on the 2015 House Agriculture Appropriations bill, two pro-farmer amendments were introduced that would have eliminated or severely weakened the GIPSA rider, but unfortunately both amendments were rejected. In the Northeast, four members of the House Appropriations committee made the anti-farmer vote to reject these amendments and leave the rider in place: Harris (R- MD), Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Owens (D-NY), and Dent (R-PA). Northeast Members who casted pro-farmer votes to include these amendments are Representatives D’Alauro (D-CT), Pingree (D-ME), Serrano (D-NY), Lowey (D-NY), and Fattah (D-PA).

Fortunately, the Senate has not included any language preventing the enforcement of these pro-farmer regulations in its 2015 bill. In fact, 13 Senators sent a letter to the Senate Chair (Mikulski, D-MD) and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee (Shelby, R-AL), urging them not to include the House GIPSA Rider in any legislation considered by the Senate. Four northeast Senators signed this letter: Rockefeller (D-WV), Leahy (D-VT), Manchin (D-WV), Gillibrand (D-NY).

Congress will likely pass a stopgap measure to extend the 2014 spending bills, and may not pass a 2015 bill until next January. It is likely that the GIPSA issue will come up, as well as other important measures impacting sustainable agriculture priorities in the Northeast. NESAWG will be reaching out to our network in key Congressional districts where action is needed to influence a member of Congress. In the meantime, we encourage you to read more about the 2015 appropriations process at the National Sustainable Agriculture Committee blog: http://sustainableagriculture.net/category/budget-appropriations/.