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Published January 19, 2012, 05:13 PM

GIPSA administrator announces resignation

J. Dudley Butler, the controversial administrator of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, announced Thursday that he is resigning.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

J. Dudley Butler, the controversial administrator of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, announced Thursday that he is resigning.

“I want to thank J. Dudley Butler for his outstanding service as administrator of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement distributed by his office. “President Obama and I believe fair and competitive markets are critical to the success of American agriculture, and Dudley has worked tirelessly to advance this cause. USDA looks forward to continuing this work on behalf of our nation’s producers.”

“I have enjoyed the past three years at USDA working with Secretary Vilsack to strengthen American agriculture and build fair markets for livestock and poultry producers,” Butler said in a statement that was also distributed by Vilsack’s office. “I leave knowing our commitment to these hardworking men, women and families will continue.”

The appointment of Butler, a Mississippi lawyer who had been embroiled in a number of lawsuits involving antitrust issues, had been praised by the National Farmers Union, R-CALF USA, the National Family Farm Coalition and other groups that are critical of the meat industry and have hoped that the Obama administration would strengthen antitrust provisions of the Packers and Stockyards Act, using authority granted to USDA by Congress in the 2008 farm bill.

But Butler’s appointment shocked the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other representatives of larger meat producers and processors.

Butler proposed a change in the GIPSA rule that USDA officials said would benefit consumers and producers by giving meat producers more power in their relationship with feedlot operators and other meat buyers.

The new rule thrilled critics of agribusiness, but big meat producers and buyers fought back hard, saying that the new rule would make it impossible for some producers to continue market arrangements through which they had been making money. The Obama administration reacted by establishing a long comment period, but in November Congress barred the administration from implementing parts of the rule. USDA announced a weaker version of the rule.

“Mr. Butler did exactly what he was appointed to do by proposing a rule that would have restricted the corporate meatpackers’ ability to exercise abusive market power against independent producers,” R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said in response to Butler’s resignation. “However, the political pushback by the corporate meatpackers proved too great and the administration that appointed Mr. Butler lost its resolve to continue supporting the key provisions in the proposed rule that would have actually restored competition. Those key provisions are now dead.

“R-CALF USA greatly appreciates Mr. Butler’s historic effort and is deeply disappointed that neither the administration nor Congress had the fortitude or integrity to stand behind him when the corporate meatpackers turned up the heat.”

Butler did manage, however, to finalize some rules regarding chicken contracts that pleased his supporters.

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