Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a lifelong farmer and senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, participated in a hearing on two bills tackling fairness and competition in the cattle marketplace: the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act, which Grassley first helped introduce last November, and the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act, which is similar to a bill Grassley helped introduce last June. Both Grassley-led bills would help ensure independent cattle producers, who have struggled to make a living while the nation’s four largest meat packers rake in record profits, are able to receive a fair price for their cattle.
The big four meat packers often enter into hidden contracts with large cattle feedlots, making it more difficult for smaller, independent producers to get a fair shake in the market and allowing packers to increase their profits. For example, while independent cattle producers have seen market prices fall or remain stagnant, Tyson Foods – one of the big four meat packers – just reported a 48 percent profit increase from last year. JBS, another one of the big four meat packers, recently settled a $52 million beef price-fixing lawsuit. The big four meatpacking companies currently dominate the market, controlling 85 percent of the daily slaughter.
On his weekly call with ag reporters this morning, Grassley noted that half of the members on the Agriculture Committee now sponsor the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act – including senators from Oregon and Georgia to New York and New Mexico.
“During my county meetings, I’ve heard from cattle producers at nearly every stop who fear that if changes are not made in this marketplace, they’ll go out of business. This comes down to Congress listening to the needs of our country’s cattlemen – not to the fear tactics of the Big Four Packers. We must pass both the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act and the Meat Packing Special Investigator Act to restore fairness in the cattle market,” Grassley said.
In today’s hearing, Grassley dove into the history of congressional efforts surrounding cattle market reform, and he attacked the “cozy relationship” between large meat packers and big cattle feedlots.
“In a nutshell: Everyone’s talking about competition. We’re talking about bringing competition to an industry dominated by four packers and a cozy relationship with the big feedlots of four or five states. They want to keep their chain moving – they don’t care whether there’s room for any independent producers or not. They, in turn, don’t care whether those cattle are owned by Wall Street bankers or farmers, and the independent cattle producers in the Midwest are being hurt,” Grassley said in his opening remarks.
Today’s hearing was a significant step forward in Grassley’s yearslong fight to improve price discovery and transparency in the cattle market. In April of 2020, Grassley called on the Departments of Justice and Agriculture to launch an investigation into potential market manipulation and other illegal activity by large meat packing companies, which was later echoed by the Trump administration.
Soon after, Grassley introduced a bipartisan proposal to increase transparency in cattle pricing. Throughout the summer of 2020, Grassley spoke on the Senate floor to urge support for his legislation, drawing attention to the nefarious activity of the nation’s big four meat packers. He has repeatedly leveraged his position as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee to press top executives in the meatpacking industry on their anticompetitive practices.
After working extensively with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, Grassley joined Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in introducing the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act last November. They continued working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make technical changes that ensure the USDA can effectively implement the bill – introducing an updated version last month.