WASHINGTON – US Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) recently introduced a bill to change regulations, increase meat processing capacity and allow livestock auctions to work with small and regional packaging plants.

"I'm proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to remove outdated regulations that hinder producers' ability to increase livestock processing capacity," Luján said. “This is a priority that I will continue to advocate for in the upcoming Farm Bill.”

The proposed legislation instructs the Secretary of Agriculture to amend the Packers and Stockyards Act to allow livestock market owners to open and operate small meatpacking plants.

Under the proposed amendment, those owners could operate a meat packing facility processing fewer than 2,000 animals per day or 700,000 animals per year. The cap would also exclude the top 10 meat packers.

"Allowing livestock auction owners to invest in local and regional meat packers will expedite the safe processing of meat, increase competition within the industry, and, ultimately, lower meat costs for consumers," Ernst said.

The Senate bill received support from the Iowa Cattlemen's Association and a few livestock auctions in New Mexico and Iowa.

"Daily slaughter capacity in Iowa falls short of our fed cattle production. We recognize the value of livestock auction markets in our supply chain, representing the interests of both sellers and buyers," said Bob Noble, president of the Iowa Cattlemen's Association. "Updating the Packers and Stockyards Act to allow for their participation in the small and regional processing sector may facilitate a more competitive marketplace outside of the Big Four."

Chad Tentinger, the principal developer at Cattlemen's Heritage Beef Co., a cattle rancher in Iowa, also gave his support to the bill. 

In 2021, his company announced plans for a $325 million plant that is expected to process 1,500 head a day and employ 750 workers when completed. 

"The basic construct of the stockyard model is a tired, old throwback to a time when large companies tried to control hard working family farms," Tentinger said. "Sale barns are more efficient, local family enterprises that work in tandem with family farms for the mutual benefit of each other and growing Iowa's agricultural foundation."

An April companion bill, the A-PLUS Act, was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) and Representative Jimmy Panetta (D-CA).