Previously, we mostly let J. Dudley Butler, new GIPSA head and P & S enforcer, speak for himself regarding livestock market competition. Butler gave no concrete details regarding his upcoming proposed regulations - new interpretations of an 88-year-old law - but he hinted.

Our sources inside USDA this summer had been indicating: 1) free market types were not going to like what Butler was cooking; and 2) some drafts Butler was sending to his legal department were generating responses like, "You can't do that!"

Butler confirmed those rumors with a trial-lawyer- style story.

"When I first got this job, I had an individual come in my office and tell me, `We can't do that.'

" I don't respond well to 'can't,'" Butler said he responded. " I want you to go tell me why we can do it. You come back here - if its illegal, obviously, we're not going to do it -- but if it's just real hard but it can be done, we're going to do it. There's no question about it."

Butler then deftly chided his populist supporters, denigrated past GIPSA leadership, stroked his current troops and cited his authority:

"I know there's been a lot said about some of the people at Packers & Stockyards. I have not found one person who didn't want to do their job. They want to work.

They didn't like being constrained and not being able to do what they thought needed to be done. We're got the commitment from the Secretary of Agriculture and from the President and you've got the commitment from me."

Then Butler described something to his Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) audience more suggestive of FBI operations than USDA.

"I have an open door policy. We're going to develop a website at GIPSA for people to submit comments anonymously and confidentially. We understand the concept of retaliation."

One audience question for Butler concerned examining the profits that are being made "right now" by retailers and the "packers' profits going through the roof!" Exactly what planet that questioner had journeyed from to St. Louis, MO., Earth wasn't revealed.

Regarding a hog integration question, Butler said both he and Doug O'Brien, USDA chief of staff - who Butler said once worked for OCM - understand "what's going on. That's why we're trying to collaborate with other agencies so we focus on the problem and solve it quickly."

Dudley claimed fact gathering comes first, to determine if and what the problems are and then evaluate legal remedies. The 2010 workshops will provide producer information regarding problems, to "see what type of justification `they' have - or maybe they don't have any justification to do what they've been doing -- and then we have to address those issues."

Butler didn't mention the proposed regulations will precede the workshops. But he called for producers' careful comment on the regulations. His comments about comments were instructive.

"That's what educates us," he said. "Further, that's what we use to defend the regs. We have to have justification for those regs. Those comments are probably the most important thing you can do."

Butler seemed to be telling his OCM audience, "I'm going out on a limb here to push the envelope. I need you out there holding the limb up."

He doesn't want 700 identical letters.

"If you can't take the time to save your way of life ... I'm begging you, take the time to write us ... have friends write us a comment ...have consumers write a comment. We need to hear how important it is for you to have a family farm to provide food to the school system, to the hospital ... local farmer's market."

We concur -- partially. Those who believe in our present free market system - with tweaks and fewer government regs - should comment. The additional comments from your friends, relatives and consumers are needed to offset passionate activists and populists cheering Butler.

We've nothing against local fruits and vegetables - we feast on summer's local tomatoes, sweet corn and peaches. But the economies of scale, the efficiencies of modern technology, sophisticated food safety measures and lower prices afforded our budget-pinched schools and hospitals should not be taken away from our communities in some misguided efforts to re-invent 1930s rural America.

Butler made one outlandish statement:

"We want value-added agriculture, as you do. We want you to produce the best product you can, just like you want to."

Mindboggling, since everything Butler's hinted at would hobble or destroy industry innovations rewarding producers for consistently producing the best products for the most consumers.

Next time: How past efforts have endeavored to stretch P & S law to impose restrictions on commerce, innovation and consumer satisfaction.

Source: Steve Dittmer, Agribusiness Freedom Foundation