John Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Butler battling giants of meat packing industry

During the two years that Batesville native Dudley Butler has served as administrator of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA), he has managed to raise the ire of meat slaughterhouse and packing industry giants like Tyson Foods, JBS. Carlin and National Beef. Among others.

Butler, a Batesville native and fellow member of South Panola’s Class of 1966, was appointed to head the relatively obscure agency within the Department of Agriculture by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in May, 2009.

Though most of us were unaware of GIPSA’s existence before Butler’s appointment, big cattle producers and meat packers certainly knew that among GIPSA’s mandates are the promotion of “fair and competitive trade practices for the overall benefit of consumers and American agriculture.”

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Butler announced soon after his appointment that he intended to enforce the 1921 Packers and Stockyard Act. The 1921 act was intended to protect producers from unfair practices by stockyards, meat brokers, wholesalers and distributors. By 2010, Butler had steered GIPSA to new regulations aimed at protecting poultry growers and cattle farmers against large agribusiness. The regulations made it easier for producers to sue the industry giants of the nation’s meatpacking behemoths, according to Internet sources.

No surprises here. Butler had been a partner in the Butler Farm and Ranch Law Group in Canton where his law practice often represented chicken farmers who found themselves in virtual straitjacket contracts with poultry companies.

Butler, who lives with his wife on a cattle ranch at Benton, is also a member of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF, USA) and a founding member of the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), a non-profit, anti-trust group.

Also not surprising have been the attacks from the farming corporatocracy. “GIPSA’s J. Dudley Butler threatens U. S. Livestock Production,” an August, 2010 headline in Beef Magazine stated. The story that followed likened him to a “fox guarding the henhouse.”

Butler has also undergone pummeling in hearings before the House Agriculture Committee whose members enjoy the largesse of campaign donations from the beef and meat packing industry.

He has been derogatorily described as a “notorious plaintiff’s attorney,” and “one of the ‘Johnnie Cochrans’ of ag law” in an Internet publication.

Which brings to mind the notion that anyone who has stirred that much reaction from big lobbying and industry groups might be doing something right.