Senate bill calls for half of slaughter cattle to be sold on cash market

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a sponsor of the so-called 50-14 bill, says producers need a robust cash market to make sure they get a fair price.

Large meatpackers would be required to buy 50% of their cattle for slaughter each week on the open market under legislation filed by nine senators. It was the second bill this month aimed at greater transparency in cattle prices.

Roughly three of every four head of slaughter cattle are sold under contracts or through price formulas that reward producers who meet criteria set by packers. Four companies account for 80% of U.S. cattle slaughter. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a sponsor of the so-called 50-14 bill, said producers need a robust cash market to make sure they get a fair price.

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, a co-sponsor, said price transparency is important in view of the consolidation of the meatpacking industry. “This bill is about putting Montana family ranchers first, instead of tying their bottom lines to the whims of multinational corporations.”

Their bill requires packers to buy half of their feeder cattle on the spot market no more than 14 days before slaughter. Grassley has filed versions of the legislation since 2002.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the largest U.S. cattle group, said the Grassley-Tester bill “simply misses the mark.” It says the first step should be a voluntary approach that asks packers to buy a specified number of cattle each week in four cattle-producing regions, through negotiated trade, with the threat of mandatory disclosure if the system fails.

Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden filed a bill in early March to require meatpackers to buy a specified number of cattle, varying by sales region, on the spot market, and through negotiated “grid” trades, and to report daily the number of cattle scheduled for slaughter in the next 14 days.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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