A staple of every recent farm bill discussion, a measure to ban packer ownership of cattle has again been introduced.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced a bill this week that would ban packers from owning or feeding livestock intended for slaughter. Other lead cosponsors in the senate include Tim Johnson (D-SD), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Kent Conrad (D-ND).
In a release, Conrad said: "Family farmers and ranchers are currently at the mercy of the large, corporate meatpackers who dictate the price and manipulate the marketplace. This legislation provides a more level playing field and helps family farmers and ranchers get a fair price on the open market. It lets the markets dictate the price as opposed to the large, industrial meat packers."
The legislation would exempt livestock owned by packers seven days or less before slaughter. It also would exempt smaller packers – those with just one facility – as well as farmer co-ops where the members own, feed or control the livestock themselves.
Most bystanders consider the measure mere political posturing, as everyone understands it’s essentially dead on arrival. Such packer ban legislation was also included in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills but was removed in conference. They also understand the move is designed as a means to help form the debate for the upcoming farm bill relative to livestock.
It doesn’t appear that we’ll see anything substantive to improve the transparency, and efficient and fair operating of the marketplace as long as we continue to offer extreme measures to score political points. It’s absolutely amazing to me how much time we have spent debating extreme measures that ultimately only benefit the activist groups and politicians who advance them.
Substantive positive measures probably just are too complex or lack sex appeal, but the industry would be better served. With today’s record prices for all classes of cattle and growing export demand, it’s hard to stir emotions against packers or exports, like it would be under more difficult circumstances.