Secretary Vilsack: Now is a once in a lifetime opportunity to level the playing field of the cattle/beef sector
The National Farmers Union Fall Legislative Forum is underway. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke about fairness in the cattle and beef industries.
USDA has an aggressive agenda to improve competition, expand price discovery in cattle markets, and strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act.
Secretary Vilsack sees it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to level the playing field.
According to Vilsack, “There is absolutely now a recognition in the government, across the government, that when farmers, when cattlemen lose money and consumers pay more money, but processors make record profits, that there’s an inequity here that needs to be straightened out in balance. Now, folks can give me a thousand different reasons why that is so, but at the end of the day, that is not a fair system.”
He says that the agency is planning on rolling out proposed updates to the Packers and Stockyards Actin November.
“We have several rules that are in the process of being formulated that we anticipate and expect we would start with the poultry rule and then move to the unfair practices rule and then move to the scope of practice rule in order to get the Packers and Stockyards Act as strong and as strengthened as possible,” he explains.
In the meantime, USDA is also looking to support competition in the packing industry.
“We have committed $500 million, looking for ways to leverage those resources to be able to expand significantly processing capacity,” he adds. “We’re also supporting the small and very small processing facilities with additional grants and opportunities for them to expand their operations to potentially take full advantage of interstate sales as opposed to intrastate sales.”
Secretary Vilsack says that they are also cooperating with the Department of Justice investigations in price fixing in the meat industry: “We’re working hand in glove with the Justice Department as they ask for information on the market-- we’re providing it. I think they are aware of how little price discovery there really is, which is why we recently announced two additional studies to try to open up the door a little bit here and, basically, find out precisely where things are.”
USDA is also working on a study to determine how consumers view “Product of the USA” meat label and what changes may be needed to that program.