Sunshine comes to the stockyards: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack wins some more fans in these quarters by naming Dudley Butler to head the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). (USDA press release)
That’s the agency responsible for insuring that livestock producers are treated equally regardless of their size and that meat companies don’t engage in unfair practices. Given that today, four companies control about 88% of all the beef produced in the U.S., we’d say they’ve done a pretty shoddy job thus far. But Butler has a history of fighting for family farmers against the big meat companies: in 2003, he was lead counsel for a family in Mississippi that found itself drowning in debt (and useless equipment, and chickens it couldn’t sell) when Sanderson Farms, one of the biggest poultry producers in the U.S., signed a production contract with them, dropped the contract prematurely, and then denied them legal recourse by forcing them into “arbitration.” Butler and the family won the case against Sanderson. “Arbitration… is all too often abused by corporations seeking to insulate themselves from defenses such as fraud, duress, and unconscionability,” declared Butler after the victory. The GIPSA head was one of the positions mentioned in our post on jobs at the USDA that can change the food system for the better. Butler seems like just the man to take up that charge.