Senate Ag approves two cattle bills
The Senate Agriculture Committee today, June 22, passed two bills dealing with the regulation of the cattle industry: The Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act and the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act.
The two bills were approved by voice vote. Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member John Boozman, R-Ark., and Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., asked that they be recorded as “No” votes.
Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., today applauded the committee and urged full Senate approval.
The committee also approved amendments by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to confirm the special investigator section to the House-passed bill and an amendment offered by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., to deal with confidentiality issues in his state.
In an opening statement, Stabenow said she was supporting the bills because they “will make progress toward a more competitive, transparent, and fair supply chain that is better for American farmers and better able to keep food on all our tables.”
Stabenow added, “A supply chain with less competition and transparency poses serious risks. Fewer options mean fewer bids for the cattle that producers sell. And as the largest meatpackers muscle out smaller competitors, farmers have limited local alternatives and longer wait times.”
In his opening statement, Boozman said he understood producers’ frustrations, but “The question I have is whether the proposals before us this morning are solutions to those problems.”
“What I fear are the unintended consequences,” he said.
“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 that have chosen to take those steps.
“These investments have kept families ranching while producing high quality beef demanded by consumers.
“If the incentive for those investments is taken away and the focus becomes producing the most pounds for the lowest cost, I think the industry, our ranch families, and our rural communities all will suffer.
“If we insert the federal government into day-to-day business decisions, repealing that heavy hand of the government is nearly impossible,” Boozman said.
Boozman and Marshall noted that state chapters of the American Farm Bureau Federation opposed the bills
Marshall said he could not support a bill that would hurt Kansas cattle producers. He also said there is often not enough shackle space for animals during the cattle cycle, and had an amendment with Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. to offer, but would not offer it.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said cattle groups in South Dakota are divided on the bills, but united in their support for country-of-origin labeling for beef and pork.
But Thune added that there will be pressure in the next farm bill to come up with a labeling program that would pass World Trade Organization muster. He noted that the previous mandatory labeling bill was repealed after the WTO ruled it was illegal under WTO standards.
Thune noted that a new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade had been passed in the meantime and that he believes the WTO objections to segregating cattle can be addressed through new technology.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has written a labeling bill to be WTO-compliant, Thune noted. That bill would give the Agriculture Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative a year to come up with a WTO-complaint program.
“We label everything in this country” except what “we put in the center of our plate — beef and pork,” Thune said. “I get tired of kowtowing to the World Trade Organization.”
Stabenow said she is “sympathetic” to Thune’s views.
Thune said he would bow to requests not to offer a country-of-origin labeling amendment on these bills, “but the issue is not going away.”
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said he also would not offer a country-of-origin labeling amendment today but that beef imports from Brazil are causing “the Amazon rain forest to be burned down.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said today that if the bills advance they will be “harmful” to the cattle industry.
“The U.S. cattle industry is home to one of the most complex set of markets in the world,” said NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane.
“Rather than embrace the freedom of that marketing system, Congress is instituting a one-size-fits-all policy that will hurt cattle producers’ livelihoods. Cattle markets are finally returning to normal after pandemic-fueled uncertainty, but these heavy-handed mandates will stifle innovation and limit marketing opportunities,” Lane said.
“Cattlemen and women deserve the freedom to market their cattle in whatever way they want.”
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