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On May 29, 2014, the Appropriations Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives marked up the agriculture funding bill for Fiscal Year 2015. That bill included a provision known as the GIPSA rider (Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Act), which would have, among other things, prohibited USDA from using any money to implement rules included in the 2008 Farm Bill to protect chicken farmers from industry retaliation. She noted several examples of this kind of retaliation.

 

The rules were developed over a six year period during which time USDA had held numerous public forums and interviewed many farmers, processors and others. The final rule was designed by USDA to protect poultry, cattle and pig farmers from industry retaliation if they spoke out, and to ensure the farmers would have standing when negotiating contracts with large industrial meat processing companies.

 

Rep. Kaptur proposed two amendments during this markup to remove some or all of the GIPSA rider and allow USDA to enforce these 2008 Farm Bill protections. The first amendment attempted to remove the entire GIPSA rider, which is referred to here as section 730 of the bill. That amendment was declined. The second amendment focused specifically on allowing USDA enforcement of protections of farmers’ right to speak about their conditions without fear of retaliation. That amendment was also declined.

 

Here, for public review and response, is a link to the video of the FY 2015 Agriculture Appropriations markup, a full transcript of Rep. Kaptur’s remarks as she confronted the committee with these amendments, and the roll call vote count for each amendment.

 

Full Committee Markup - FY 2015 Agriculture Appropriations Bill

Video: https://youtu.be/NSggNfR46t0?t=2h9m3s

 

Amendment #1 (starts at 2:09:03)

Introduction:

“My amendment is in opposition to the language in the base bill to section 730, it strikes that [section]. As written, section 730 would prohibit the USDA from finalizing regulations to address commonplace abuses and anti-competitive practices that bear down on family farmers and livestock producers, for example in the poultry industry. My amendment is pro-farmer, pro-consumer and it’s pro-competition.

 

Let me point out that our committee should not be in the position of trying to thwart the Farm Bill. I’m talking about the Farm Bill of 2008 as well as the current farm bill that was passed. Yes I said 2008. Because since that farm bill’s passage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been following the law and proceeding methodically to hold hearings on what the farm bill directed it to do on the competition that faces family farmers involved in livestock production. USDA, in following the bill, has proposed rules as of June 2010, and incorporating in that, listening to those hearings what those farmers were saying to them. Then in 2011, continuing to proceed based on the law, USDA issued final rules after receiving extensive public comments.

 

Importantly, the rules that they are proposing include farmer productions such as fair contracting procedures for these family farmers. But instead of allowing USDA to do its job, the meat packers and the poultry companies did an end-run again now to this Congress in this bill that would essentially say to USDA: “you can’t complete your work that you began over six years ago on practices that have been an issue for decades to address a serious situation and the unfair practices that impact farmers across our nation.”

 

Here’s an example. I remember I was up in one part of our country, I won’t say which state, meeting with farmers who were subjected to what I term very unfair practices. I said to the farmers, may I ask you a question? Because they were totally beholden to the poultry integrator, I said “who owns the manure, the black gold here in this operation?” The farmer just looked at me, he had no answer. Two hours later I was with the company that had sold the hens to the farmer, and I said “what happens to the black gold” and the company said to me “oh, let me show you.” So the man goes and comes back with a jar of pelletized manure and he said “we own it.” I said “do you have contract rights to that manure?”

 

What was interesting was he knew all about the science of fertilizers and power production based on that very rich nutrient but the farmer was left out in the lurch.

 

We’ve been trying as a country to be fair to all parties in the food production process, the farmer as well as the processor. The amendment that I am proposing is supported by over 168 farmer, consumer, community and faith organizations from around the country. They know the situation that they face every day. It includes the Alabama Contract Poultry Growers Association, groups like the Cattle Producers of Washington, Contract Poultry Association of Virginia, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Independent Beef Association, Iowa Farmers Union, the list is very long, Rural Vermont…

 

All kinds of organizations support this because they know what is happening is not fair on both sides of the equation. The need for additional protections for farmers is even greater now because of the vertical integration going on in the food production system in our country, enabling contracting practices that are even more abusive for local farmers. The market power, for example, of the big chicken companies becomes much higher at the local level.

 

An example: poultry companies source chicken from contract farmers within about a 50 mile range of the processing plant—chickens don’t travel very well so they have to be close to where they’re processed. But according to USDA, about half of the farmers have only two processing plants within 50 miles and one quarter of the farmers have only one plant. That means there’s no competition in the industry, that they are truly beholden.

 

I would ask my colleagues to please level the playing field, let farmers have an opportunity have their contractual rights and fair practices observed in the food production systems of this country. I would urge support of the Kaptur amendment.”

 

Close:

“I thank you very much and I would just say we shouldn’t stop the Department of Agriculture from implementing the Farm Bill. Your provision does that in the base bill. I want to go back to regular order and not try to stop the authorization process and the rulemaking process at USDA. It’s been going on long enough.

 

I hate to get personal about this, but Arkansas (Rep. Womack) has companies like Tyson, OK foods, George’s and Simmons, they have a very important role in the economy of those states. So should the farmers doing the work.

 

And in Alabama you have Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, Koch Foods, Keystone, and Wayne Farms, they have major market power. So should the farmers doing the hard sweat labor that produces these animals. So I’m saying let the Department of Agriculture go forward, don’t tie their hands by section 730 in this bill. Let’s support fair contracting processes, let’s support just practices, let’s remove abusive practices that affect those who become a modern form of indentured, bonded production houses to major integrators. We have to level the playing field, let USDA do its job, support the Kaptur amendment, support our contract farmers.”

 

ROLL CALL NO. 3: Recorded vote - 18 yeas, 31 nays

Members Voting Yea:

Mr. Bishop

Ms. DeLauro

Mr. Farr

Mr. Honda

Ms. Kaptur

Ms. Lee

Mrs. Lowey

Ms. McCollum

Mr. Moran

Ms. Pingree

Mr. Price

Mr. Quigley

Ms. Roybal-Allard

Mr. Ryan

Mr. Schiff

Mr. Serrano

Mr. Visclosky

Ms. Wasserman Schultz

Members Voting Nay:

Mr. Aderholt

Mr. Amodei

Mr. Calvert

Mr. Carter

Mr. Cole

Mr. Crenshaw

Mr. Cuellar

Mr. Culberson

Mr. Dent

Mr. Diaz-Balart

Mr. Fleischmann

Mr. Fortenberry

Mr. Frelinghuysen

Ms. Granger

Mr. Graves

Dr. Harris

Ms. Herrera Beutler

Mr. Joyce

Mr. Kingston

Mr. Latham

Mr. Nunnelee

Mr. Owens

Mrs. Roby

Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rooney

Mr. Simpson

Mr. Stewart

Mr. Valadao

Mr. Wolf

Mr. Womack

Mr. Yoder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amendment #2 (starts at 2:51:42)

Introduction:

 “Mr Chairman, I have a second amendment…

Members of the committee, this amendment goes to the same title as the former one, 730, which deals with the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA) and I rise in opposition to portions of that provision, and I urge the Members to strike a portion of the rider because it prevents American farmers from exercising their rights of free speech in the bargaining process.

 

If we allow this specific provision of the rider to go into effect, it would prevent the USDA from protecting farmers against large processing firms, like Tyson’s and Purdue, who may engage in retaliatory actions against farmers for speaking to public officials, including their Members of Congress, about abusive practices, intimidation and coercion that regularly occurs in the industry. Striking this portion of the rider would allow the USDA to protect farmers from retaliation for exercising their rights of free speech.

 

In May of 2010, there was a hearing held, Agriculture Vilsack and Attorney General Holder, went to Alabama to hear about poultry. One of the biggest messages they heard from poultry growers was about the fear of retaliation if growers speak out about the abuses they face on their farms if their dealings with the poultry companies that control their contracts and their livelihoods are at issue.

 

Here’s an example:

One poultry farmer at the hearing recounted what happened when he contested his poultry company’s effort to add a new provision to his a contract that included a mandatory arbitration clause, which would have taken away his right to a jury trial if a dispute arose.  When he took issue with the clause, the processing company refused to work with him.  Absent other options, the farmer and his wife lost their farm.  ‘We chose to stand up for our principles,’ the farmer, a former infantryman and pilot in Vietnam, said at the hearing.  ‘We did not give up a fundamental right to access the public court … which is guaranteed by our Constitution, regardless of price.  I had flown too many combat missions defending that Constitution to forfeit it.  It was truly ironic that protecting one right, we lost another.  We lost the right to property.’

 

It is widely understood, by the way, in poultry circles that farmers who dare to play leadership roles in organizing a poultry growers group often suffer from retaliation.  A hen breeder in Georgia was the victim of severe retaliation by his poultry company when he tried to organize a breeder hen grower association in his area, to get farmers to work together in support of better contract terms.  The company deliberately targeted him and delivered sick chickens to his farm.  He was able to sue and years later he won his case after it was proven that the company deliberately targeted him with bad birds because of his organizing efforts.  We cannot allow farmers to be harmed because they speak to their Members of Congress or local public officials. We must strike sections of this provision from the bill and allow American farmers to use their right to freedom of speech, including coming to us on these issues.”

 

Closing statement:

“Mr. Chairman, in closing I just want to read the proposed regulations:

A retaliatory action or omission by a packer, a swine contractor or a live poultry dealer in response to the lawful expression, spoken or written association, or action of a poultry grower, livestock producer, or swine production contract grower.

A retaliatory action includes but is not limited to coercion, intimidation or disadvantage to any producer or grower, in an execution, termination, extension or renewal of a contract involving livestock or poultry.

They’re trying to protect the farmer’s rights. I would say to my dear colleague you are taking them away by opposing my amendment. The Department of Agriculture wants to enforce these regulations so that farmers have standing, and that they don’t have their livelihoods taken away simply because they are allowed to speak about their conditions. What is wrong with that? What is wrong with that?

 

And what is wrong with that is that the companies in this situation have too much power. Those doing the work in these houses don’t have enough power. We need to give them equal standing in the courts and in their ability to come and see us and exercise their rights of free speech. Please support this amendment.”

 

 

ROLL CALL NO. 5: Recorded vote - 20 yeas, 29 nays

Members Voting Yea:

Mr. Bishop

Ms. DeLauro

Mr. Farr

Mr. Fattah

Mr. Fortenberry

Mr. Honda

Ms. Kaptur

Ms. Lee

Mrs. Lowey

Ms. McCollum

Mr. Moran

Ms. Pingree

Mr. Price

Mr. Quigley

Ms. Roybal-Allard

Mr. Ryan

Mr. Schiff

Mr. Serrano

Mr. Visclosky

Ms. Wasserman Schultz

Members Voting Nay:

Mr. Aderholt

Mr. Amodei

Mr. Calvert

Mr. Carter

Mr. Cole

Mr. Crenshaw

Mr. Cuellar

Mr. Culberson

Mr. Dent

Mr. Diaz-Balart

Mr. Fleischmann

Mr. Frelinghuysen

Ms. Granger

Mr. Graves

Dr. Harris

Ms. Herrera Beutler

Mr. Joyce

Mr. Kingston

Mr. Latham

Mr. Nunnelee

Mr. Owens

Mrs. Roby

Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rooney

Mr. Simpson

Mr. Stewart

Mr. Valadao

Mr. Womack

Mr. Yoder

 

You can see John Oliver’s segment on HBO’s Last Week Tonight here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9wHzt6gBgI

 

Agriculture Subcommittee Members

Republicans

  • Robert Aderholt, Alabama, Chairman
  • Kevin Yoder, Kansas
  • Tom Rooney, Florida
  • David Valadao, California, Vice Chair
  • Andy Harris, Maryland
  • David Young, Iowa
  • Steven Palazzo, Mississippi

Democrats

  • Sam Farr, California, Ranking Member
  • Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut
  • Sanford Bishop, Jr., Georgia
  • Chellie Pingree, Maine

 

Full Committee Members

Republicans

  • Harold Rogers, Kentucky, Chairman
  • Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, New Jersey
  • Robert B. Aderholt, Alabama
  • Kay Granger, Texas
  • Michael K. Simpson, Idaho
  • John Abney Culberson, Texas
  • Ander Crenshaw, Florida
  • John R. Carter, Texas
  • Ken Calvert, California
  • Tom Cole, Oklahoma
  • Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida
  • Charles W. Dent, Pennsylvania
  • Tom Graves, Georgia
  • Kevin Yoder, Kansas
  • Steve Womack, Arkansas
  • Jeff Fortenberry, Nebraska
  • Tom Rooney, Florida
  • Chuck Fleischmann, Tennessee
  • Jaime Herrera Beutler, Washington
  • David Joyce, Ohio
  • David Valadao, California
  • Andy Harris, MD, Maryland
  • Martha Roby, Alabama
  • Mark Amodei, Nevada
  • Chris Stewart, Utah
  • Scott Rigell, Virginia
  • David Jolly, Florida
  • David Young, Iowa
  • Evan Jenkins, West Virginia
  • Steven Palazzo, Mississippi

Democrats

  • Nita M. Lowey, New York
  • Marcy Kaptur, Ohio
  • Peter J. Visclosky, Indiana
  • José E. Serrano, New York
  • Rosa L. DeLauro, Connecticut
  • David E. Price, North Carolina
  • Lucille Roybal-Allard, California
  • Sam Farr, California
  • Chaka Fattah, Pennsylvania
  • Sanford D. Bishop, Jr., Georgia
  • Barbara Lee, California
  • Michael M. Honda, California
  • Betty McCollum, Minnesota
  • Steve Israel, New York
  • Tim Ryan, Ohio
  • C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Maryland
  • Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida
  • Henry Cuellar, Texas
  • Chellie Pingree, Maine
  • Mike Quigley, Illinois
  • Derek Kilmer, Washington

Russians unload currency fearing economic chaos

Falling oil prices, Western sanctions, market panic send ruble to record lows

MOSCOW — Despite extraordinary efforts by the Russian central bank to defend the currency, the ruble’s value continued to slide on Tuesday, presenting President Vladimir Putin with an acute new set of political and economic challenges.

Scenes that Russians hoped had receded into the past reappeared on the streets. Currency exchange signs blinked ever-changing digits. Russians rushed to appliance stores to buy washing machines or televisions to unload rubles. Unsure of prices, car dealerships like AB Volvo halted business, while Apple Inc. stopped online sales in the country.

After a dramatic middle-of-the night interest rate hike, a sense of economic chaos settled over the Russian capital. The ruble was in free fall, dropping under 80 rubles to the dollar, after opening the day at 64 to the dollar.

“We are seeing an economic crisis,” Natalia Akindinova, a professor at the Higher School of Economics, said in a telephone interview. “We are seeing a sharp devaluation of the ruble at a time when the central bank doesn’t have the reserves to influence the market, as it did in the past crises.”

The bulk of the Russian government’s revenues come from oil. Now the economy is being battered by the painful combination of low oil prices and Western sanctions. The country is expected to fall into a recession next year.

The White House said Tuesday that President Obama will sign legislation imposing new economic sanctions on Russia as a protest against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

The measure sponsored by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Ohio), also provides military and financial assistance to the government of Ukraine. It cleared Congress late Saturday.

White House officials acknowledged there were no guarantees Russia’s economic woes and another round of sanctions would compel Mr. Putin to curtail aggressive actions in Ukraine.

Global investors are increasingly concerned that tumult in Russia might not be isolated. Many emerging markets like Venezuela and Nigeria are dependent on Russia’s energy exports, which are being hurt by the deep and sustained decline in oil prices. Oil is now trading at about $55 a barrel, compared with more than $100 a barrel this summer.

In Russia, investors are growing increasingly worried that the Kremlin has in effect decided to print money to address a growing debt problem. Traders are also raising concerns that the cronyism and opaque insider dealings that have plagued business here have now spread to monetary policy.

According to analysts, the ruble’s fall on Monday was sparked by word of an opaque deal involving the central bank and the state-controlled oil company, Rosneft. The well-connected business executive running the company, Igor Sechin, a longtime associate of Mr. Putin, had apparently persuaded the central bank to effectively issue billions of new rubles to his company to help cover debts.

The governor of the central bank, Elvira Nabiullina, speaking on Russian television, said the interest rate decision had been made to stanch the fall of the ruble. In its moves, the Russian central bank also increased allotments of dollars to the Russian banking system, to finance the purchase of rubles as part of the effort to stabilize the currency.

A continued fall in the value of the ruble could present Mr. Putin with difficult choices and could make it more difficult to sustain the political support he has enjoyed at home even as his relations with the West have frayed.

He faces a delicate dance with Russian companies, which are under significant financing strains. Russian corporations and banks are scheduled to repay $30 billion in foreign loans this month.

And next year, about $130 billion will be due. There is no obvious source for these hard currency payments other than the central bank, whose credibility is now being called into question.