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House to vote on cattle contract library, a marketing reform

A bill to require USDA reports on the number of cattle being delivered under contract for slaughter by meatpackers will be called for a House vote on Tuesday. It will be debated under provisions that prohibit amendments and require a two-thirds majority for passage, an approach usually reserved for bills that are noncontroversial.

It was the only livestock marketing reform to gain committee support in Congress. Four other bills with agricultural import were also on the so-called suspension calendar for Tuesday, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. They include HR 5290, an extension through Sept. 30, 2022, of a livestock price reporting law, and HR 4996, a maritime bill that sponsors say would ease supply-chain strains by preventing cargo ships from refusing to load containers filled with U.S.-made cargo.

Members of the House Agriculture Committee approved HR 5609, to create a cattle contract library and weekly or monthly reports on cattle under contract to meatpackers, on Oct. 21, with one proponent saying it would “inject much-needed transparency back into the marketplace.”

The information potentially would help cattle producers know if they are being offered a fair price for their stock and help them decide when to send cattle to market. When the bill cleared committee, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said it had broad support “and it will help our producers command more leverage in negotiations with the packers.”

A handful of packers dominate beef processing and only a fraction of cattle are sold on the cash market. Most are fed under contract or delivered under formulas that set the price, often with cash sales as a factor.

The contract library would spell out terms and provisions of contracts being offered to producers. Under the bill, the USDA would issue reports on the terms of contracts between producers and packers, and on the number of head that would be delivered for slaughter in the following six and 12 months. The reports would include tallies of animals committed to delivery to a specific packer and animals that are not bound to a single packer.

Congress has extended but not reauthorized the mandatory livestock price-reporting law since it expired in 2020; the latest extension ran through last Friday. House Agriculture chairman David Scott filed HR 5290 on Sept. 17. It has not been considered in committee.

Also slated for a vote on Tuesday were HR 4489, to let the Forest Service collect and keep the interest paid on settlement funds, with the money to be used for clean-up of damaged forest lands, and HR 5608, to create a USDA fund for research into chronic wasting disease, similar to mad cow disease and affecting deer, elk, and moose.

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