Protecting Food. Empowering Whistleblowers.

A History of the “GIPSA Rules”

The fight to enforce protections for farmers and ranchers under the Packers and Stockyards Act

U.S. Capitol Hill

Congress Passes the Packers and Stockyards Act

Reacting to public outcry and extreme concentration of power and monopolies in the meat industry, Congress passes the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA). The PSA is a set of laws designed to prevent big companies from abusing their power – for example by squeezing farmers and ranchers for profits through unfair pay schemes. The PSA formally established the Packers and Stockyards Administration, an agency bound to enforce the new laws.


USDA can oversee Big chicken companies’ practices

Following pressure from farmers and their advocates, live poultry dealers are added to the Packers and Stockyards Act, giving USDA authority to also oversee big companies’ practices in the chicken industry.

Photo of poultry houses, confined animal feeding operations.

“CAFOs” take hold across the industry

Technology drives forward a new trend of widespread concentration in meat and poultry. The “Confined Animal Feeding Operation” or CAFO starts to take hold across these industries. A CAFO is an enclosed house where livestock and poultry are kept, watered, and fed, and enables thousands of animals to be housed in a small amount of space. 


“Vertical Integration” of meat companies

The CAFO boom contributes to rapid concentration in the industry, as farms get bigger and fewer in number. Companies increasingly become “vertically integrated” – meaning they own every aspect of the production chain, except the farm itself, from hatching the chicks and producing the feed to slaughtering, packaging and branding the final product.

GIPSA logo

Founding of GIPSA

As part of a reorganization at USDA, the Packers and Stockyards Administration was merged with the Federal Grain Inspection Service, creating a new agency: the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). GIPSA continued to hold the authority and responsibility for oversight of livestock and poultry companies, and enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921.

USDA failed to enforce PSA laws

USDA failed to enforce PSA laws

Despite the existence of the PSA laws, the increasing power of major meat companies takes a toll and decades passed in which USDA lacked political will to enforce these laws on behalf of farmers and ranchers. The agency responsible for enforcing the PSA was at this time GIPSA. 

Photo of Government Accountability Office Report in 2000 about Packers and Stockyards Programs. Actions Needed to Improve Investigations of Competitive Practices

GAO Report showed GIPSA failed to protect farmers

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report highlighting several failures of Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) to protect farmers under the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA). These included failure to investigate farmer cases, and failure to investigate companies’ anti-competitive practices.


Outcry from farmers, ranchers & advocates led to new PSA rules

In the 2008 Farm Bill, Congress responded to outcry from farmers, ranchers, and farm advocates, and demanded that USDA develop new rules to clarify the PSA. Ensuring that the protections for farmers and ranchers would be enforced in today’s modern industry climate.


61,000+ comments in support of GIPSA rules

USDA releases a set of draft rules for public comment, based on the 2008 mandate from Congress. Often referred to as the “GIPSA Rules,” they receive over 61,000 comments, the majority in support of the rules, many coming directly from farmers and ranchers themselves.

Representative speaking

Industry Lobbyists block new rules from becoming law

Sensing that regulation was inevitable, industry lobbyists took a back-door approach to block these rules from becoming law. For five years in a row the industry heavily lobbied individual members of Congress to add the infamous “GIPSA Riders” into the budget appropriations process, preventing USDA from releasing the rules.


“John Oliver Show” exposes GIPSA Rider corruption

An episode of the popular Last Week Tonight with John Oliver exposes the undemocratic GIPSA Rider corruption, calling out individual lawmakers for the first time in a widespread public platform. 

Contract poultry grower, Eric Hedrick, delivering petitions to members of Congress

Congress held accountable & no GIPSA rider passes

Farmers and advocates are finally able to hold members of Congress accountable during the 2015 appropriations process, and the budget passes without a GIPSA rider, allowing USDA to finally finish their rulemaking process. 

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) employees gathered in the lobby of the Whitten Building to wish Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack best wishes upon his departure from the USDA where he has served as Secretary for the past 8 years. Best wished to the Secretary and his family in Washington, DC on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

USDA releases “Farmer Fair Practice Rules”

In the final weeks of the Obama Administration, USDA releases a reduced set of three rules, known now as the “Farmer Fair Practice Rules” that center on key issues from the original 2008 Congressional mandate in the Farm Bill. These include issues like ensuring that farmer pay is fairly calculated, and ensuring that companies cannot retaliate against farmer whistleblowers for speaking out about industry conditions.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue attends a Farmer's Roundtable where President Donald Trump signed the Executive Order Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America April 25, 2017, at the White House in Washington, D.C.. USDA photo by Preston Keres

Trump Administration discards the “Farmer Fair Practice Rules”

Shortly after stepping into office, Sonny Perdue and the Trump Administration permanently discard the Farmer Fair Practice Rules, before they ever make it into law. 

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service logo

Diminished oversight of meat & chicken companies

In 2017, at the same time the Farmer Fair Practice Rules are permanently discarded, GIPSA gets a demotion. The new Trump Administration moves oversight of the powerful meat and chicken companies from having a self-standing agency within USDA, to being buried within the Agricultural Marketing Service. Essentially, GIPSA was moved to a branch of USDA that normally collaborates with companies, and does not normally conduct oversight of companies. This move signals a retreat from the decades-long effort to ensure that farmers and ranchers are justly protected by the PSA. 

Watered-down, single rule enters Federal Register

Watered-down, single rule enters Federal Register

December 10, 2020 — USDA releases a watered-down, single rule, the only one remaining from the original 2010 Farmer Fair Practice Rules that the Trump Administration did not discard. This rule has been widely criticized for being too weak to ensure enforcement of the PSA, and failing to address farmer and rancher concerns that have been voiced for decades.

Photo of U.S. President Joe Biden signing an executive order

Presidential Executive Order Signed

July 9, 2021 — President Biden signed an Executive Order (EO) directing federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to act on 72 different policy initiatives to promote fair and competitive markets. In the Executive Order it directs USDA to publish a package of three Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA) regulations, to update and complete the work that President Obama started in 2010 through the Farmer Fair Practices rules. Among several demands to improve the industry, the Executive Order calls on USDA to “[adopt], to the greatest extent possible and as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, appropriate anti-retaliation protections, so that farmers may assert their rights without fear of retribution.”

The White House Forecasts Three New Rules

The White House Forecasts Three New Rules

January 3, 2022 — At the “White House Roundtable on Promoting Competition and Reducing Prices in the Meat Industry,” President Biden demanded that farmers and ranchers get a “Fair Shake”. That same day, the White House released the Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain. The Action Plan included the development of three proposed rules to provide greater clarity and strengthen enforcement under the Packers and Stockyards Act in order to protect farmers and ranchers from the abuses of meatpackers and processors.

Text reads: "90% of the nine billion chickens raised in the U.S. each year are grown under abusive one-sided contracts that benefit corporations and have farmers deeply in debt." It's time farmers get a #FairShake.

First of Three New Rules Proposed

May 2022 —  The first new proposed rule under the Packers and Stockyards Act is released: Transparency in Poultry Growing Contracts and Tournaments. This rule will make needed improvements to the poultry payment system. It also aims to create a more even playing field for growers, prevent deception and abuse and strengthen the ability of poultry growers to make informed production contract decisions.

Meat Companies Intimidate Farmers

Meat Companies Intimidate Farmers

To suppress their voice, companies intimidate farmers. At two separate congressional hearings this year, some farmers and ranchers refused to testify due to fears of retaliation. While the public comment period on the first rule is open, a large U.S. chicken company, Mountaire, sends out letters to urge farmers to oppose the new Transparency rule aimed at improving their conditions.

Second of Three New Rules Proposed

Second of Three New Rules Proposed

September 2022 — The second new proposed rule under the Packers and Stockyards (P&S) Act is released: Inclusive Competition and Market Integrity under the Packers and Stockyards Act. USDA proposes this rule to combat discrimination and retaliation against farmers and ranchers and to provide for clearer, more effective standards to govern the modern livestock and poultry marketplace.