USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) today published in the Federal Register changes to the rules of practice governing proceedings under the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA). The changes, effective immediately, will allow GIPSA and alleged PSA violators to settle cases in a more timely and less costly manner. It also provides GIPSA with another enforcement tool to obtain compliance in lieu of letters and warnings.

The new rules allow GIPSA to offer alleged PSA violators a stipulation agreement, which provides notice that certain conduct is in PSA violation. It also allows the alleged violator an opportunity to voluntarily pay a specified penalty to resolve the case.

The change brings GIPSA more in line with other USDA agencies that already have the ability to settle violation cases by stipulation agreement, says Bruce Knight, Under Secretary for USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs (MRP), which includes GIPSA.

"GIPSA can respond quickly to bring violators into compliance and, in doing so, offer better protection to America's farmers and ranchers," he says.

Stipulation procedures are available for use by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), another MRP agency under Knight's oversight. APHIS has authority to use stipulation agreements in settling cases involving the Animal Welfare Act, Plant Protection Act, and Animal Health Protection Act, as well as other federal laws.

PSA provides for civil penalties of up to $11,000 for each violation a person commits. Settling cases by stipulation allows alleged violators to pay a civil penalty less than that imposed if GIPSA were to file a formal administrative complaint.

GIPSA Administrator Jim Link says, in most case, the stipulation agreement will be offered just once. If violations continue, GIPSA will file a complaint and seek more severe sanctions. As an additional deterrent, some violators who in the past would have received written warnings will now be faced with civil penalties.

"This change is good for everyone," Link says. "The industry we regulate benefits by having violators pay and come into compliance soon after a violation is discovered, and the violators are able to resolve their case quickly so it's not out there hanging over their heads for a long time."

Taxpayers will also benefit as the cost for USDA to reach resolution in many cases will be greatly reduced.

If an alleged PSA violator chooses not to agree and pay the stipulation penalty, GIPSA will proceed with the filing of an administrative complaint and seek a higher penalty.

-- USDA GIPSA news release