Revised Cattle Market Reform Bill Out, But White House Support Still Uncertain

Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley this week introduced an updated version of the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act. First introduced in November, Senators Deb Fischer, a Nebraska Republican, Jon Tester, and Montana Democrat, and Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, joined Grassley to introduce the update. The updated legislation allows for more regions, five to seven, encompassing the entire continental U.S. and then establishes minimum levels of fed cattle purchases made through approved pricing mechanisms. The update retains the cash trade mandates included in the previous version of the bill.

Now the revised legislation is awaiting a Senate hearing, but one of its authors concedes White House backing is still uncertain. Chief sponsor of the bipartisan Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act, Iowa U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, says both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have been involved with his bill.

“We’ve worked for months with Secretary Vilsack and the USDA staff and also with the Senate Ag Committee to make technical changes, so that USDA can effectively implement the legislation. We heard from stakeholders who wanted to make sure that all ‘big four’ packing plants would be covered.”

But has that won over the White House and President Biden, who also blames meatpacking industry concentration for high prices?

“They have not endorsed our legislation. But I think, with Secretary Vilsack working so closely with us, and a Democrat chairman of the Agriculture Committee working with us, that there’s no doubt that we’ve got something that the president would sign. Now the president’s never said that, and I can’t put words in his mouth, but I believe we’re on the right track.”

Grassley argues there’s never been this much “momentum” for broader price reporting and regional negotiated pricing at the grassroots and in Congress—despite opposition from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the American Farm Bureau. “They simply want us to study and study and study, you know, ‘kick the can down the road.’ We have waited long enough. Cattle producers going broke, while the ‘big four packers’ record the highest profits ever. I’m confident, we have the votes in the Senate Ag Committee to get this done.”

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association President Brooke Miller says, “USCA stands with county, state, and national producer associations across the U.S. in supporting mandatory cash trade minimums.” National Farmers Union President Rob Larew says the legislation “would shed light on the market and bring about greater fairness.” The updated bill also increases penalties for violations by packers, and requires that livestock mandatory reporting data be made consistently available.

Grassley doesn’t have a hearing date yet but says he and cosponsor Deb Fisher are asking Chair Debbie Stabenow to schedule one, probably likely after the Easter/Passover break.

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