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The rap on the big chicken integrators — Tyson, Pilgrim’s — is that they are coercive, that they use their power to turn contract chicken growers into vassals. The primary purpose of new regulations proposed by the U.S.D.A. is to give contract growers a little more power in this relationship, so farmers under contract won’t be pushed around and their every decision controlled by Tyson.

The National Chicken Council (the lobbying outfit for the integrators) is against the USDA regs, and so how do they propose to fight rules that would limit their powers to coerce farmers? Simple. They plan to coerce farmers into sending letters opposing the rules. Agri Pulse has this fantastic story

Stewart Doan reports: “’So USDA issues a rule to prevent coercion and intimidation of poultry growers by poultry integrators when negotiating contracts, and how do the poultry integrators respond?’ complained an ag industry lobbyist who added that the integrators are ‘leaning’ on some growers to participate in a letter-writing campaign opposing the GIPSA proposal.”

Doan has a copy of the August 4 memo sent to processors, which says that companies should “educate” growers about these rules. “We should have at least 500 (five hundred) unique comments from growers industry-wide expressing an anti-rule point of view. NCC will establish a target for each company to meet in terms of getting comments filed.”

• Washington Post columnist David Broder has a column Sunday about USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who went through a tough patch with the highly public firing of state development director Shirley Sherrod. 

Broder said most of Washington, D.C., was oblivious to the context of the exceptional public official I had known — a man who was a perfectly plausible presidential aspirant in 2007 until he ran out of money.” Broder then reviews what Vilsack has been up to at USDA, especially in the area of rural development. It is a stout defense of Vilsack. 

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