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Chairwoman Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing to Review Cattle Market Legislation

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today released the following opening statement at the hearing to review S.4030 the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act of 2022 and S.3870 the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act of 2022. Live video of the hearing is available here.

Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

I call to order this hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. Today we are holding a legislative hearing on two bipartisan bills aimed at improving competition and transparency in the livestock industry. Thanks to Senators Grassley, Fischer, Tester and Wyden for leading on the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act of 2022. And thanks to Senators Tester and Grassley for leading the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act of 2022. 

The Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act includes several reforms aimed at improving transparency and price discovery in cattle markets. And the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act would further support fairness in cattle markets by creating a new USDA office dedicated to enforcing competition rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act. The last few years have made it clear that we need to create a more resilient food supply chain that is better able to withstand disruptions, whether it’s a pandemic, a cyberattack, a weather disaster, or a war in Ukraine.

Early in the pandemic, enormous shifts in consumer demand, along with COVID-19 outbreaks among processing plant workers and other disruptions, left farmers with low prices and few available markets. Consumers all saw empty shelves and sky-high prices at the grocery store, all while huge companies reaped record profits. Our food supply chain, while efficient, also proved to be highly vulnerable. Consolidation and lack of competition was a significant contributing factor.

The cattle industry is a prime example. Just four big companies control 85% of the beef slaughter in our country – and two of them are foreign-owned. At this time two years ago, upwards of 30% of beef processing capacity was offline because large plants shuttered when meatpackers failed to adequately protect their workers. In 2019, a fire in one plant reduced beef processing capacity by more than 5% for several months. And just last spring, a ransomware attack on one company shut down one-fifth of U.S. meat processing capacity.

These events have ripple effects across our economy. As we heard from our witnesses last June, consolidation and concentration hurts farmers, workers, and consumers, and stymies competition. It means producers across the country receive fewer bids when they sell their cattle. It allows the largest meatpackers to muscle out new and smaller businesses who try to compete, leaving farmers with limited local and regional processing options and long wait times.

We have heard concerns about the lack of transparency and competition loud and clear, as well as the need to ensure producers of all sizes have options and fair markets. That’s why I was pleased to see President Biden’s Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain announced early this year.

With the funding we secured in the American Rescue Plan, the USDA is investing more than $1 billion to promote competition by expanding local and regional meat processing capacity and provide more options for farmers. The Administration is also taking steps to ensure that competition rules under the Packers & Stockyards Act are enforced.

There is no shortage of complex challenges facing livestock producers.  And it is in the interest of all Americans to make our food supply chain more resilient. I look forward to hearing from USDA and our panel of industry experts for their perspectives on these proposals. With that, I’ll turn to Ranking Member Boozman for his opening remarks.