The U.S. Department of Agriculture Nov. 29 announced it is eliminating the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration as a standalone agency and will consolidate its functions into the work of the Agricultural Marketing Service.

The announcement was made through a final rule posted in the Federal Register.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced his intention to eliminate the GIPSA agency in September 2017, shortly before withdrawing the Farmer Fair Practices Rules promulgated by GIPSA during the final weeks of the Obama administration. Those rules, supporters say, would have restored what that administration believed were producer protections to the Packers and Stockyards Act.

Perdue cited improved customer service and efficiency as the reason for the elimination of the agency.

The Nov. 29 rule establishes new delegations of authority for several USDA mission areas. For example, it changes the roles of the chief operating officers for the Farm Production and Conservation as well as Rural Development mission areas and of the administrator of the Farm Service Agency to reflect the consolidation of management support functions for these mission areas.

Organizations generally considered leaning toward Democrats assailed the new rules.

In a statement the Organization for Competitive Markets said Perdue’s statement on efficiency “would be laughable but for the dire consequences his action will have on the customers the P&S Act was designed to protect—America’s family farmers and ranchers.

“Perdue’s callous actions fly in the face of President Abraham Lincoln’s stated purpose for establishing USDA as ‘the people’s department.’ Now buried in the bowels of a marketing and promotion agency, P&S Act enforcers will lose direct access to the Secretary and Under Secretary of USDA, having to fight through a layer of unfavorable bureaucracy within AMS for their fair share of budget dollars and the ability to address farmers’ and ranchers’ complaints.

“Placing a regulatory body—whose mission is to protect farmers from meat packers’ and processors’ abusive retaliatory and predatory practices—into a marketing and promotion agency guarantees a conflict of interest within that agency preventing them from being the fair market enforcers farmers desperately need in the face of ever increasing market consolidation.”

OCM founding member and Mississippi cattle producer Fred Stokes said, “AMS is the most corrupt and compromised agency in Washington D.C. and to subordinate Packers and Stockyards Act enforcement as a program of AMS is the death knell for antitrust enforcement in the meatpacking industry. Secretary Perdue’s action is clear evidence that America’s family farmers and ranchers are in harm’s way under his leadership at USDA.

“We remain hopeful that our litigation against Perdue for illegally withdrawing the Farmer Fair Practices Rules promulgated by the now defunct GIPSA will be ruled in our favor. Perdue’s actions today make that outcome even more imperative.”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said, “At a time when just a handful of companies control all of the markets that supply and buy from family farmers and ranchers, the elimination GIPSA is a big step in the wrong direction. The agency’s statutory duty is to ensure fair and competitive markets for family farmers.

“This decision comes on top of USDA’s decision to withdraw the Farmer Fair Practices Rules, which would have given American family farmers the most basic of protections against abusive and undue practices levied against them by companies that hold substantial market power. Farmers Union strongly urges USDA to reconsider both of these decisions that undermine competition and place family farmers and ranchers at a significant disadvantage in the marketplace.”

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or ldreiling@hpj.com.

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