This week, just days before he says goodbye to his job, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack landed one last punch in a brawl that's gone on at his department since he got there eight long years ago.
He announced new regulations that are intended to protect small farmers from mistreatment at the hands of meat packers, swine dealers, and poultry companies. Advocates for small farmers, including the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, praised it as an important step toward ending abuses of power by the handful of companies that dominate the meat industry. The National Pork Producers Council, on the other hand, was furious, calling Vilsack's move "an apparent attack on rural America for its role in helping elect Donald Trump as president."
The sharply partisan reaction to the new regulations suggests that the new rules face an uncertain future. Some of them aren't set to become final until after Trump takes office.
The regulation has its roots in complaints by farmers about growing concentration of power in the poultry, pork and beef industries. A few big companies dominate each of those businesses.
In the case of poultry, the major companies typically rely on "contract farmers" who build and own the chicken housing, but depend on poultry companies to supply everything else, including the birds and the feed. Some of these contract farmers say that under these arrangements, they carry much of the risk, but have almost no power.