As the nation’s meatpacking industry is scrutinized for possible anti-trust violations, Congress is working on a bipartisan bill to create more transparency in the live cattle market, with one Oklahoma Member helping to lead the effort.
The Cattle Contract Library Act of 2021, cosponsored by Cheyenne Republican Frank Lucas, would instruct the US Department of Agriculture to create and maintain a current list of marketing contracts between cattle producers and meatpackers.
“This has been done for the pork industry already,” said Rep. Lucas (R-OK3), “so this can be done, to give us a better way to know what’s going on.”
Lucas, a cattle rancher himself, says many small producers are frustrated, wondering why, at a time when beef prices are up 12 percent over last year, they are struggling to make ends meet, and yet meatpackers are enjoying huge profits.
“I’m not opposed to them making money,” said Lucas in an interview Friday, “they just need to share a little bit of that profit with the folks that run the real factories, those four-legged factories out on the farm.”
In addition to creating a regularly updated list of current marketing contracts, the legislation would dedicate funds so that universities and other agencies can disseminate the information to those who want it, “because it doesn’t do any good to have it in a central computer in Washington DC if a rancher in Oklahoma can’t get to it,” said Lucas.
The Biden administration is also taking action to try and improve the situation. It’s putting $500 million toward assisting new meat processing companies that hope to compete with the current mainstays, such as JBS, Smithfield, and Tyson. The Department of Justice, meanwhile, is investigating allegations of anti-competitive activities.
Industry leaders say they are doing nothing wrong and that the current high prices and high profits and the simple result of how the pandemic has impacted supply and demand.
Even if that’s true, Rep. Lucas says creating a contract library is still a good idea.
“The more knowledge that individuals and groups of producers have,” he said, “the better able they are to make marketing decisions in their best interest, too.”
Lucas says he believes there’s a good chance this bill – because it’s bipartisan and because this affects ranchers all over the country could ultimately become law. It passed unanimously out of committee yesterday.