Tester Presses Agriculture Secretary Vilsack on Meat Consolidation Legislation

Senator pushes for adequate funding for Packers and Stockyards Act enforcement

In his continued push to combat consolidation in the meat industry, Senator Tester questioned Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about how the Administration plans to tackle anti-competitive practices that are putting ranchers out of business and raising prices for consumers.

“We all know that rural America is declining and it’s going to continue to decline unless we do some things a little differently,” Tester said. “Four companies control over 80 percent of the marketplace. Capitalism doesn’t work in situations like that and we want capitalism to work. We want there to be competition in the marketplace so that both cow calf operators and consumers can reap the benefits of a good, competitive system.”

Tester reinforced that he is not in favor of putting the big packers out of business, but rather creating a fairer cattle-pricing system, so that capitalism can work as it was designed.

“I’m not for putting anyone out of business. What I’m for is adding more competition to the marketplace, and the Packers and Stockyards Act was originally set up to do that. We just haven’t had the enforcement capabilities.”

Last month, Tester testified in front of the Senate Agriculture Committee in support of his two bipartisan anti-consolidation bills – the Meat Packing Special Investigator Act and the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act.

Tester’s 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). This office 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.

Tester’s Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act, which is co-led by Senators Fischer (R-Neb.), Grassley (R-Iowa), and Wyden (D-Ore.), sets regional mandatory minimum thresholds for negotiated purchases of fed cattle by large meatpackers. It also includes a number of transparency measures, including the creation of a cattle contract library, requirements that packers report carcass weight more quickly and that they report the number of cattle scheduled for slaughter each day for the next 14 days.

As the only working farmer in the U.S. Senate, Tester has long been an advocate for increased market transparency and more competitive practices for Montana producers and consumers. Earlier this year, Tester introduced his Agriculture Right to Repair Act to finally guarantee farmers the right to repair their own equipment and end current restrictions on the repair market. Last year, he introduced his bipartisan American Beef Labeling Act, which would ensure that only beef raised in the United States is labeled as a product of the USA, and his bipartisan New Markets for State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Act, which allows meat and poultry products inspected by Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) approved state Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) programs to be sold across state lines.