Mixed Reaction: Ag groups reveal skepticism regarding cattle reform measures
Ag groups are mixed on the passage of two major cattle reform measures in the Senate Ag Committee. One sets a minimum level of cash trading, while the other establishes a special investigator's office to look into unfair marketing practices.
One bill passed by Senate Ag members makes the Special Investigator a senior career employee at USDA. One amendment introduced by Senator Chuck Grassley conforms the Senate version to the one passed by the House last week, and only gives the Investigator authority to bring action that violates the Packers and Stockyards Act.
The real controversy came over the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act. It was opposed by Ranking Member John Boozman, who said he would support it if not for the federally mandated cash trade.
"What I fear are the unintended consequences. The cattle industry has made tremendous strides in meeting consumer demand since the 1990s. Investments in genetics and breeding decisions and specialized marketing have brought real returns to ranch families who have chosen to take those steps."
Senator Roger Marshall said the bill might be good for ranchers in Nebraska and Iowa, whose lawmakers sponsored the bill, but he too has concerns.
"I want to make clear: I support most of the bill, and Kansans support most of this bill. Transparency is the nectar of free enterprise and capitalism, but capitalism without competition creates opportunities for exploitation.">
Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow said the bills are based on feedback from stakeholders.
"These bills will make progress toward a more competitive, transparent, and fair supply chain that is better for American farmers, and better for those better able to keep food on our tables."
The Price Discovery Bill would require USDA to divide the country in five to seven regions, then set minimum levels of cash trading for each.
The bills are opposed by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the North American Meat Institute, and 21 Farm Bureau presidents. They say a federal mandate will cost cow-calf and stocker operations significantly more. The U.S. Cattlemen's Association says without intervention, negotiated trade would soon fall to zero percent in parts of the country.
Sponsors hope the full Senate would consider the bill this Fall.