Bill intends to level playing field between packers, producers

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — The Livestock Marketing Fairness Act, S. 1086, a new bill which its authors claim will "stop years of unfair and manipulative meat-packer practices that negatively impact ranchers and farmers," was introduced May 20 by U.S. Senators Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa and Tim Johnson, D-S.D.

According to the Senators, the bill would put ranchers and farmers on equal footing with packer-owned herds by amending the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 to end certain anti-competitive forward marketing contracts and ensure that ranchers have full access to the marketplace. Increasing numbers of large packing operations own their own livestock or control them through forward contracting agreements. This allows these firms to buy from themselves when prices are high and buy from others when prices are low, the Senators claim. In recent years, the meatpacking industry has become increasingly concentrated with only a handful of firms controlling a majority of the domestic cattle and hog slaughter, they added.

"There is a continued need to restore transparency and competitiveness in all our markets, including the sale barn," Mr. Enzi said. "Packers who own herds shouldn’t be able to manipulate prices and now is the time for Congress to rein in anti-competitive meat packers and give ranchers an honest chance to make a living."

"The big meat-packing companies have held far too much power over the livestock industry for far too long," Mr. Dorgan added. "It’s time we injected some fairness into this market. Our independent ranchers are out there working hard every day, and they deserve a fair shake at the stockyard. We need to pass this bill and stand up for their interests."

"Our bill works to create a healthy, competitive environment for small and large producers and packers by bringing transparency to the marketplace and ending manipulative behavior," Mr. Grassley said.

Mr. Johnson charged top meatpacking companies continue to gain more power over the independent farmer and rancher. "This bipartisan bill will prevent anti-competitive practices and keep our family farmers and ranchers in the fold," he added

The Senators claim the bill would publicize livestock trading, ensure third-party pricing, exempts smaller operators and includes market access for large and small producers.

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