Sidney Herald: Tester speaks on two bills aimed at fair market value for beef

by Mark Berryman

Jon Tester, U.S. Senator for Montana, held a press call concerning two bills he is co-sponsoring which are intended to help even the playing field between beef producers, packing houses and consumers.

“In America, capitalism only works when we have competition and right now lack of competition, specifically in our beef markets, is making it harder and harder for family farms and ranches to succeed in Montana,” said Tester. “Production agriculture is our number one industry and there are countless farmers that make a living from beef production. For generations, family farmers and ranchers have handed down their operations that have fed this nation.”

Tester said that it gets harder each year for generational farmers and ranchers to make ends meet because companies control more than 80% of meat packing industry.

The senator said big packers are making record profits. “With packers making these kind of profits, you would think the Montana ranchers were getting a slice of that pie but that simply not the case. The big packers are paying less for the cattle and charging more for the finished product. Producers are getting undercut while consumers are paying more at the grocery store. it is long past time Montana producers got paid fairly for what we raise and which is a premium product premium beef,” said Tester. “It’s time the producer and the consumer get a fair shake.”

Tester said he has worked across the aisle with Republican and Democratic colleagues to draft two key pieces of legislation to tackle consolidation in the industry – The Meat Packing Special Investigator Act and the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act.

The Meat Packing Special Investigator Act, which is co-led by Republican Senators Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rounds (R-S.D.), would create the “Office of the Special Investigator for Competition Matters” within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The new USDA special investigator will have a team of investigators, with subpoena power, dedicated to preventing and addressing anticompetitive practices in the meat and poultry industries and enforcing our nation’s antitrust laws.

The bipartisan Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act would increase transparency in the market and set regional mandatory minimum threshold for negotiated cattle purchases by large meatpackers. The act will ensure there is sufficient price discovery in the markets to stop packers from artificially manipulating prices.

Tester said the bills are gaining brand bipartisan support.

“It looks like we’re going to be able to get them to the Senate floor for a vote. I am urging all my colleagues in the Senate to pass these bills and put them on the present desk as soon as possible because Montana ranchers and consumers simply can’t wait any longer,” said Tester. “If we do nothing, we know what the results going to be. You’re going to see generational cattle renters go out of business because right now they’re not getting a fair shake and neither are consumers.”

Tester said there would be resistance from the packers. “I know for a fact they are going to come after this talking about all sorts of stuff. I mean, I heard one yesterday that said you know, if you have a special investigator they’re going to be investigating all the small plants and not the big guys.”

Tester said the bills were not an attempt to put larger packing houses out of business. “I don’t want to put any big packer out of business. I just want to make sure they’re following the law and they’re giving a fair prices to both the folks in the industry and consumers.”

Tester said he expected to see both of the bills on the floor in June.