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Published March 12, 2012, 11:37 AM

Administration backs stonger GIPSA rule

OMAHA, Neb. — In a statement with implications for the 2012 presidential race, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in Omaha, Neb., on March 5 that the Obama administration remains committed to a stronger rewrite of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration rule and to the country-of-origin food labeling (COOL) program that has been challenged by the Canadian and Mexican governments at the World Trade Organization.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

OMAHA, Neb. — In a statement with implications for the 2012 presidential race, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in Omaha, Neb., on March 5 that the Obama administration remains committed to a stronger rewrite of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration rule and to the country-of-origin food labeling (COOL) program that has been challenged by the Canadian and Mexican governments at the World Trade Organization.

Vilsack told the National Farmers Union, a Democratic-leaning farm group that he strongly supported both measures in the 2008 farm bill debate, that on the GIPSA rule they should follow the admonition of Winston Churchill, who said, “Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.”

Vilsack noted that the rule did make some improvements for poultry producers and that the administration is still determined to use its regulatory powers to make sure that meat producers “have a fair shake.”

He also said that the Agriculture Department has a close relationship with the Justice Department, which has the legal powers to bring antitrust actions related to agriculture companies.

The Obama administration proposed a rule that officials said would give cattle ranchers more power in their relationships with meatpackers, but some meat producers and processors reacted so negatively to it that the administration softened the proposal. Later, Congress passed a law that prevents the administration from going forward with the rule.

Some members of Farmers Union and other farm and ranch groups have accused the administration of not fulfilling a campaign promise. J. Dudley Butler, the GIPSA administrator, who was popular with Farmers Union and other groups advocating the original proposed rule, resigned. Butler has expressed some disappointment with the administration, but has put most of the blame on Congress.

Butler’s departure did not mean a reduced commitment to addressing GIPSA issues, Vilsack said.

The secretary said he has to be careful in what he says about the (COOL) program because the WTO decision is in the process of being adjudicated. He said the administration was disappointed in the section of the ruling that said that some U.S. practices regarding implementation of the rule were discriminatory and violated WTO rules, but was “heartened by the decision that the country can continue to provide information to the consumers.”

The Obama administration is in the process of deciding whether to appeal the WTO decision.

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