Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said a spending bill that won approval by the House Appropriations Committee today contains a provision inserted by Republicans that removes key protections for chicken farmers who speak out about their treatment by large processors like Tyson and Perdue.
Contract farmers who raise chickens for large-scale processors are frequently punished financially by companies if they speak out about mistreatment and unfair practices. In 2008, Congress passed legislation providing protection from retaliation under the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) but each year language has been inserted into the Agriculture Appropriations bill blocking enforcement of those protections. Last year, after TV host John Oliver brought increased attention to the issue, Pingree's committee passed that bill without the controversial GIPSA language. Today Republicans on the committee reintroduced the provision and it passed by just two votes.
"This is simply outrageous," Pingree said. "We are talking about very basic rights like free speech and freedom of association. For years big multi-national meat processing companies have used unfair, uncompetitive contracts to punish farmers who do something as simple as contacting an elected official or talking to other farmers. There is a law to protect them from those practices and, just at the moment the federal government was about to start enforcing it, there was this last minute move to block it."
The National Farmers Union called today's vote "a direct assault on family farmers and ranchers in this country" and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said the scope of the amendment passed today was "stunning" and "would prevent USDA from implementing even the most basic farmer protections."
The American Farm Bureau also strongly opposed the addition of the GIPSA provision today.
"This is about basic free speech rights for these hard working chicken farmers," Pingree said. "There are laws in place to protect them but year after year Congress has blocked their enforcement. Last year we passed a bill that, for the first time, lets farmers take advantage of those protections. But now it seems like the supporters of these big meat processors are up to their old tricks again."
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