Md. Attorney General joins coalition supporting proposed USDA rule change

MARYLAND – Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh is joining a coalition of ten other AGs to advocate for chicken growers. The coalition is backing a proposed United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule that aims to increase transparency in the industry.

“What we’re talking about here is a situation in which the farmers, the actual folks who grow the chickens, are at a huge disadvantage,” said Frosh. “90% of them are doing contract growing. That is to say, they’re dealing with big chicken processors. They have contracts that they have no ability to negotiate.”

Under the proposed rule, chicken dealers would have to be clearer on certain information, including how many chicks a prospective grower might receive from them, and what other growers have been paid in the past.

“They don’t often have the information they need to make intelligent decisions about whether they ought to get into this business. There are huge investments that are required. They usually take out loans to pay for the construction of the chicken houses. They don’t own the chickens,” said Frosh.

Frosh tells 47ABC that with the gamble of jumping into the chicken industry often comes an unfair playing field for the growers.

When we see a situation in which our residents are being taken advantage of, or in which they don’t have adequate bargaining power to make sure that they’re going to continue to make a living, it’s incumbent upon us to stand up on their behalf and try to protect them,” said Frosh. “The only way you can do it, is to enter into an agreement. It’s tournament, is what they call it, with one of these multi-billion dollar processors. The tournaments are often unclear. It’s often to the great disadvantage to the farmer.”

The group of AGs is also calling on external government oversight when it comes to dispelling that information. That’s because under the rule, the chicken dealers’ own executive officers would be charged with ensuring accurate information is given to the growers.

“There ought to be some additional government oversight of that. In our letter, we say let’s have some government auditors or folks looking over the shoulders of processors just to make sure that the information they’re giving the farmers is accurate,” said Frosh. “We think, in combination with that oversight, the information will make it a lot easier for farmers to figure out whether this is a business they want to be in.”

The USDA is also expected to issue two more proposed rules. The rules would strengthen enforcement against unfair or deceptive practices or prejudices, and clarify that parties do not need to demonstrate harm to competition in order to bring legal action under the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921. The USDA is accepting public comment on its proposed rule until August 23rd.

Categories: Local News, Maryland