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Lawsuit challenges cancellation of farmer fair practice rule

Farmers in Alabama and Nebraska joined with a Nebraska-based fair trade group Thursday to sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the agency's cancellation of an Obama-era plan that would have made it easier for farmers to demand better treatment when they contract with meatpacking companies.

Posted: Dec 14, 2017 2:57 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Farmers in Alabama and Nebraska joined with a Nebraska-based fair trade group Thursday to sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the agency's cancellation of an Obama-era plan that would have made it easier for farmers to demand better treatment when they contract with meatpacking companies.

The lawsuit seeks to reverse the USDA's October decision to vacate the Farmer Fair Practices Rule — regulations that would have, among other things, reduced the burden of proof farmers face to sue over contracts and practices they believe are unfair, discriminatory or deceptive.

"We know from decades of evidence that massive agribusiness companies don't hesitate to use their power to abuse these farmers, and the Farmer Fair Practices Rule was a crucial step to restoring fairness in the market," said Anne Harkavy, executive director of nonprofit legal group Democracy Forward, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Lincoln, Nebraska-based Organization for Competitive Markets; Nebraska farmer James Dinklage; and Alabama farm couple Jonathan and Connie Buttram. "It should be restored either by USDA, or by the court."

USDA spokesman Jake Wilkins declined to comment, saying the agency doesn't discuss pending litigation.

The rules were first proposed by the USDA in 2010 but were not released until last December in the final days of President Barack Obama's administration. They were scheduled to take effect on April 22, but President Donald Trump's administration delayed them for six months before the USDA announced in October that it would not implement them.

The suit, filed in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, alleges Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue ignored thousands of comments in public hearings and submitted in writing and unlawfully sidestepped directives in the 2008 Farm Bill mandating some of the rules be enacted.

Trade groups for the meatpacking industry, including the National Chicken Council and the National Pork Producers Council, had complained that the rules would lead to costly lawsuits and would reduce competition.

Some companies, such as Tyson Foods and Pilgrim's Pride, require chicken and pork producers to enter into contracts that farmers say set their compensation at unprofitably low levels and force them deeply into debt.

Several court rulings have interpreted federal law as saying a farmer must prove a company's actions harm competition in the entire industry before a lawsuit can move forward. The rules would have eased that high burden of proof.

The elimination of the rules has helped large multinational corporations get the upper hand on farmers, said Joe Maxwell, a Missouri hog farmer and executive director of the Organization for Competitive Markets, a nonprofit think tank focused on antitrust, trade policy and competitive markets.

"In doing so, Secretary of Agriculture Perdue and the administration have thrown America's farmers to the wolves, telling them that their family businesses don't matter," Maxwell said.

Named in the lawsuit are the USDA, Perdue and the U.S. government.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 320174

Reported Deaths: 7390
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22294271
Hinds20755424
Harrison18450317
Rankin13923282
Jackson13733249
Madison10273225
Lee10063176
Jones8473167
Forrest7837153
Lauderdale7263242
Lowndes6523150
Lamar636288
Lafayette6314121
Washington5427138
Bolivar4841133
Panola4671110
Oktibbeha466398
Pearl River4606148
Marshall4574105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc425973
Monroe4162136
Union415877
Neshoba4065180
Lincoln4009113
Hancock387687
Leflore3516125
Tate342586
Sunflower339491
Pike3373111
Alcorn327474
Scott320374
Yazoo314571
Adams308486
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma299084
Simpson298689
Tippah292268
Prentiss284261
Leake272374
Marion271280
Covington267283
Wayne264842
Grenada264087
George252451
Newton249064
Tishomingo232369
Winston230282
Jasper222148
Attala215173
Chickasaw210659
Holmes190574
Stone188733
Clay187954
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174232
Yalobusha167940
Smith164134
Walthall135447
Greene131834
Lawrence131224
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry127538
Amite126342
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Jefferson Davis108334
Tunica108127
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96729
Franklin85023
Quitman82316
Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69632
Jefferson66328
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 549013

Reported Deaths: 11311
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson810461571
Mobile42145831
Madison35718525
Tuscaloosa26179458
Shelby25626254
Montgomery25089614
Baldwin21901314
Lee16287176
Calhoun14724327
Morgan14639285
Etowah14183364
Marshall12454230
Houston10791287
Elmore10301214
Limestone10188157
St. Clair10161251
Cullman9958201
Lauderdale9612250
DeKalb8977190
Talladega8462184
Walker7341280
Autauga7242113
Jackson6953113
Blount6950139
Colbert6415140
Coffee5638127
Dale4930116
Russell454941
Chilton4478116
Franklin431782
Covington4279122
Tallapoosa4144155
Escambia401880
Chambers3728124
Dallas3610158
Clarke353161
Marion3245107
Pike314578
Lawrence3134100
Winston283572
Bibb268564
Geneva258481
Marengo250665
Pickens237062
Barbour234559
Hale227178
Butler224671
Fayette218962
Henry194443
Randolph187644
Cherokee187345
Monroe180641
Washington170739
Macon163051
Clay160159
Crenshaw156357
Cleburne153644
Lamar146937
Lowndes142254
Wilcox126930
Bullock124542
Conecuh113630
Coosa111629
Perry108626
Sumter105832
Greene93634
Choctaw62125
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