Farmers Lose Battle to Restore Obama-Era Protections

(CN) – The Eighth Circuit on Friday rejected a challenge by small farmers to the Trump administration’s decision to rescind regulations meant to protect them from unfair business practices in the livestock and poultry industries.

Organization for Competitive Markets, a Nebraska nonprofit representing farmers, asked the St. Louis-based federal appeals court to review the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rollback of two Obama-era provisions of the Farmer Fair Practices Rules. One of the rules would have removed obstacles that prevented farmers from suing over unfair business practices.  

In October 2017, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue eliminated protections for small farmers and ranchers that they said would more readily allow them to compete with big agribusiness.  They said the rules would level the playing field for family farmers and ranchers and shield them from predatory and retaliatory practices. 

The farmers’ advocacy group filed its lawsuit a year ago arguing that Purdue’s decision to roll back the rules was “arbitrary and capricious.”

However, the USDA said that the outgoing Obama administration’s proposal in December 2016 to establish regulations already partially mandated by a 2008 farm bill would conflict with legal precedents. That would likely result in more litigation in the livestock and poultry industries, and prevent innovation in farming, the government argued.   

On Friday, the Eighth Circuit denied Organization for Competitive Markets’ petition for review. The court found that the USDA gave “rational reasons for its decision to withdraw.” Furthermore, the USDA’s rollback was only a return to a policy that had been in place before the Obama administration changed the rules.  

“An agency’s decision to retain the status quo is more easily defensible than a shift in policy would be,” U.S. Circuit Judge James Loken wrote in the 13-page order. “Here, USDA explained that it was withdrawing the interim final rule and taking no further action on the proposed regulations because the proposed regulatory change of course would generate protracted litigation, adopt vague and ambiguous terms, and might prevent innovation and foster vertical integration that would hinder new market entrants.”

U.S. Circuit Judges William Benton and Bobby Shepherd joined the decision. 

The advocacy group’s executive director Joe Maxwell said in a phone interview Friday that he had been in touch with his attorneys and they were considering their options. 

“Organization for Competitive Markets is extremely disappointed in the court’s decision today,” Maxwell said.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment. 

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