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Subcommittee Proceeds Cautiously on Livestock Competition Reforms

by 5m Editor
30 May 2007, at 2:05pm

WASHINGTON – Today the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry (Subcommittee) took the first formal step, lasting less than two hours, in the arduous process of developing the House version of the 2007 Farm Bill.

In previous years, the House Agriculture Committee flatly rejected proposals by cattle farmers and ranchers to make competition-related reforms, which resulted in the notable absence of country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for meat and a limitation on packer ownership of livestock in the House version of the 2002 Farm Bill. Predictions of a similar fate for renewed competition reforms could not be read into this year’s outset of the House Farm Bill.

R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard attended the hearing and said when it came to amendments that his organization holds particular interest in, it appeared that Subcommittee Chairman Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, was carefully weighing the level of opposition among his other Subcommittee members.

“Though it was anticipated that Chairman Boswell would introduce the entirety of his previously introduced H.R. 2135, a bill to prohibit unfair practices and strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act, only excerpts from the bill were offered as amendments, and only the provision dealing with arbitration clauses was brought to a vote,” said Bullard. “All others, including an amendment to improve price transparency in forward contracts, were withdrawn.”

In two roll-call votes, both 8-6 along party line votes that favored the sponsors, two amendments to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson’s, D-Minn., first draft of the 2007 Farm Bill were passed. The first, introduced by Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Wis., provides relief to domestic veal farmers that suffered market-depressing prices as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The second, introduced by Boswell, reforms current livestock contract language dealing with arbitration clauses. The amendment allows the use of arbitration after a dispute arises between the producer and the integrator and provided both parties to the dispute agree to arbitration.

“The fact that both votes cut along party lines without all the members voting, and the fact that Ranking Member Robin Hayes, R-N.C., had attempted to persuade Chairman Boswell to ignore the favorable vote on the arbitration amendment and, instead, lump all the competition reforms into a single package for full Agriculture Committee consideration, suggests the outcome of any further votes would have been unpredictable,” he commented.

Bullard said R-CALF USA is disappointed that the Subcommittee did not immediately amend the Farm Bill to eliminate language that would allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to tie animal identification to COOL. Also disappointing, he said, was the fact there were no amendments to include the entirety of Chairman Boswell’s competition bill (H.R. 2135), the captive supply reform act (H.R. 2213), or a ban on packer ownership.

“On the positive side, no adverse votes were cast that would slow R-CALF’s efforts to include its reforms into the 2007 Farm Bill,” he noted.

Another amendment offered by Kagen would have allowed the interstate shipment of state-inspected meat, provided the state-inspected meat plants matched or exceeded federal standards. Though the amendment received favorable comments from both sides of the aisle, and an Administration official testified that 27 of the 28 states that operate state meat inspection programs already are certified as equal to, or greater than, the federal program, the amendment was not voted on. Instead, the sponsor agreed to work to further simplify the amendment’s language and bring it to a vote before the full House Agriculture Committee at a later date.

“The fact that all of our issues are still alive shows that our cattle-producing members from all across the country demonstrated significant, initial strength through their calls, faxes, and e-mails to each member of the Subcommittee,” Bullard said. “Their efforts prevented any attempt to cause an early death to our reforms. Our challenge now is to continually build momentum for each of our reforms over the next couple of months so they become a reality in the 2007 Farm Bill.”

5m Editor