Debate continues regarding USDA's proposed Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) regulations; however, the focus has shifted to Congress these past few weeks, with the House taking several steps over the past several weeks to express concern, even displeasure, over the proposed regulations.

Congress Sounds Alarms

In mid-May, 147 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack asking for a timeline for completion of the economic analysis of the proposed regulations, currently in process. The letter, signed by a bipartisan group of more than one-third of the House members, also urged USDA to withdraw the current proposal and re-propose regulations after the economic analysis was complete. Concerns were raised that the current proposal went far beyond USDA's authority as directed in the 2008 Farm Bill. Specifically, the letter stated, "Congress provided a narrow set of issues for the Department to address." It continued, "It is troubling that the Department appears to be using the rule-making process to accomplish objectives specifically rejected by Congress, and we are confident any such rule will not be looked upon favorably by Congress."

Work on GIPSA Proposal Continues

Shortly thereafter, the Administration made it clear that it had no plans to withdraw the current GIPSA proposal. USDA also stated that it was too premature to provide a timeline, stating instead that their focus was on reviewing the more than 60,000 comments received to the proposed rule and modifying the rule to improve it based upon those comments. USDA is currently in the beginning stage of a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed regulations, which will then be followed by clearance from both USDA and the Office of Management and Budget.

House Takes Steps to Withdraw GIPSA Funding

Shortly after USDA's announcement, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture passed a draft Fiscal Year 2012 Agricultural Appropriations Bill, which cut all funds for GIPSA enforcement of the proposed regulations. The draft bill states that "None of the funds made available by this or any other Act may be used to write, prepare, develop, or publish a final rule or an interim final rule in furtherance of, or otherwise to implement, the proposed rule entitled ‘‘Implementation of Regulations Required Under Title XI of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008; Conduct in Violation of the Act."

On May 31, the full House Appropriations Committee passed the 2012 Agricultural Appropriations Bill which did include the language striking funding from USDA to implement the proposed GIPSA regulations. The next step is for the full House to consider the bill, although the timeline for this is unclear at this time. At least one House member has indicated intent to propose an amendment striking the GIPSA language from the bill. The timeline for the Senate to consider and mark up the Agricultural Appropriations Bill also remains undetermined, and it is likely that this provision, should it remain, will be the topic of much debate in the Democratic-controlled Senate when that time comes.

These actions raised the ire of supporters of the current proposal, while at the same time indicating that there are serious concerns over the proposed regulations in the Republican-controlled House, which is not averse to taking steps accordingly. Some House members have spoken out against these cuts, though, and there is sure to be some key debate within both the House and the Senate should the language continue to be included. We will continue to monitor developments and provide updates related to the proposed GIPSA rule.