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December 20, 2023
A group of lawmakers known as the Chicken Caucus sent letters to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week urging him to delay implementation of a new provision in the Packers and Stockyards Act. It’s the latest salvo in an ongoing debate over how best to update the law originally passed in 1921.
The Packers and Stockyards Act was enacted to ensure fair trade and prevent unfair, discriminatory or monopolistic practices. On Nov. 28, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service issued a final rule requiring live poultry dealers to provide growers additional information about their terms of agreement. Dealers would be prohibited from withholding information on the economic, financial and operational risks growers take when entering into and operating their growing agreements.
The new rule, titled Transparency in Poultry Grower Contracting and Tournaments, is set to go into effect on Feb. 12.
Chicken Caucus members say 75 days is not enough time for poultry companies to make the required changes. They are proposing a 180-day period for them to become compliant.
“By providing just 75 days to implement the rule, AMS has dramatically underestimated the number of people involved, hourly rates, and time required of compliance officers, regulatory consultants, attorneys, executives, and other services required to implement the rule,” the Caucus’s letter to Vilsack says. “AMS also overlooks the massive disruption that will be caused if companies and growers must amend nearly every existing grower contract, especially if the same exercise must be done a second time in the event AMS issues additional Packers and Stockyards rules.”
The House letter was signed by 45 lawmakers, led by Chicken Caucus chairs Steve Womack, R- Ark., and Jim Costa, D- Calif. The Senate letter had 19 signatures including Senate Chicken Caucus co-chairs Chris Coons, D-Del. and Roger Wicker, R- Miss.
While chicken industry supporters are pushing for more time, other groups say changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act are coming too slowly. On Dec. 13, a coalition of more than 60 groups sent their own letter to President Biden, urging him the speed up the rule changing process. They contend further delays in new rules make them vulnerable to opponents of competitive agricultural markets.
On Tuesday, Secretary Vilsack told reporters he does not want to delay the important work of providing a more balanced relationship between producers and integrators. He also notes that poultry dealers have had many months to prepare for the rule.
AMS published the rule proposal in the Federal Register on June 8, giving all parties 60 days to submit feedback. That public comment period was subsequently extended for 15 days.
“I don’t see any reason to extend the time period,” Vilsack says. “They had plenty of time and it’s not as if what’s being asked is particularly onerous. This is information they already have very easily available.”
Policy editor, Farm Progress
Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.
Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.
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