POLITICO Pro: Groups suing over GIPSA say farmers were too scared to join effort

By Christine Haughney | 12/14/2017

Farmers were so fearful of suing the USDA and risking retaliation from large meat and poultry producers that they declined to join Democracy Forward and the Organization for Competitive Markets’ lawsuit against the USDA for withdrawing GIPSA rules in October, the groups say.

In an interview with POLITICO, employees with the Organization for Competitive Markets and Democracy Forward, which filed the petition on behalf of OCM, said they approached roughly 30 farmers to join the lawsuit. But they said the farmers were too afraid that their livelihoods would be further hurt by speaking out against the withdrawal of the GIPSA rules that would’ve given them more power to set the terms of their deals with big meat companies.

“The fear is really rampant,” said Karianne Jones, legal counsel for Democracy Forward. “We talked to a variety of farms who expressed interest in what we were doing.”

Jonathan Buttram, a poultry producer from northern Alabama who joined the case as a plaintiff, said it was essential to join because he has watched his farm over the past decade shrink from 360,000 birds and 1,000 brood cows to simply 80 brood cows. But as president of the Alabama Contract Poultry Growers Association and a board member of OCM, pushing back against big poultry companies has cost him his livelihood, he said.

“What has happened because of me speaking out, I have been blackballed,” Buttram said. “The chicken company has told us not to talk to you.”

But Aman George, Democracy Forward’s director of legal policy, said it’s essential to keep fighting this case, which he described as “one of this highest-stake policy fights that we’ve taken on as an organization.” He added that “it’s very clear that without proper protection, independent farmers can’t really compete. … There’s just not room for them to get a foot in the door to sell their livestock and poultry to American consumers.”

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