NBC Montana: Lawmakers address rising meat prices, issues facing cattle ranchers

by Emma Wulfhorst

BOZEMAN, Mont. – Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana spoke on the Senate floor Thursday about issues facing the agriculture industry as well as what Congress needs to do to ensure fairer prices for producers and lower costs for consumers.

“We have a situation where the marketplace isn’t working, and the reason why the marketplace isn’t working is because of consolidation in that marketplace,” he said.

Right now, the four major meatpackers processing the vast majority of meat in the country are Cargill, JBS, Tyson Foods and National Beef. These companies control 85% of the beef market.

In Montana, cattle and calves are the most produced food commodity, generating more than $1.5 billion in sales in 2020.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the gap between the retail price for beef and the price cattle producers earned is the largest it’s ever been.

“We’ve got packers that are making record profits,” Tester said. “Profits are great, and I’m not looking to close down anybody. All I want is to insert more competition and make sure that big guys are following the rules.”

This week, he testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee on two bills he co-sponsored.

The senator says the Meat Packing Special Investigator Act and the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act are designed to provide relief for consumers and ranchers and prevent anti-competitive practices.

“We certainly appreciate our congressional delegation and the work that they do to promote the livestock and agriculture in Montana,” said Jay Bodner, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

Montana’s Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines was also vocal on this issue.

“We need to bring fairness and transparency to the cattle markets to ensure that Montana ranchers can do what they do best and that is produce the very best beef in the world,” he said.

Tester said he anticipates movement on these bills in a week to 10 days. “They’ll pass this bill out of committee, and then I’ve got to put pressure on leadership, that’s Schumer, to take it to the floor. I think he will do it, because he’s made a commitment to me in the past that he will take it to the floor. I’ve got to remind him that commitment, both bills, take them to the floor. Let’s have the debate. Let’s have the vote. And let’s move on,” Tester continued.

Montana ranchers are not waiting for legislation to pass. Bodner says meat processing in the state doubled over the last year.

“Montana cattle producers are very innovative,” he said. “So when they’re faced with many challenges, they look to innovate, to try to capture more of that value.”