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Senators’ new bill expands meat processing to auctions

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Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) have introduced an aptly-named bill, the Expanding Meat Processing Act of 2022 aimed at allowing livestock auction to work with small and regional packing plants. 

“It should be a no-brainer to cut bureaucratic red-tape, eliminate outdated regulations that are hindering the livestock industry, and increase processing capacity,” said Senator Ernst. “Allowing livestock auction owners to invest in local and regional meat packers will expedite the safe processing of meat, increase competition within the industry, and, ultimately, lower meat costs for consumers.”

»Related: Survey: Consumers’ interest in buying local beef grows

The bill revises the Code of Federal Regulation acting as a companion bill to the House’s A-Plus Act, the Amplifying Processing of Livestock in the United States Act. Currently, outdated regulations hinder producers’ ability to increase capacity at livestock processing facilities. The proposed legislation amends the Packers and Stockyards Act, remedying regulations that prohibit livestock market owners from owning and operating meat packing plants. 

“Allowing livestock auction owners to invest in local and regional meat packers will expedite the safe processing of meat, increase competition within the industry, and, ultimately, lower meat costs for consumers,” Ernst said.

The senators hope that the bi-partisan bill will be included in the Farm Bill, creating an avenue for increased competition in the packing industry’s marketplace while ultimately lowering meat prices for consumers. Currently, four processing plants control over 85 percent of beef in the United States: Cargill, Tyson Foods, JBS, and National Beef. 

Currently, beef packing expansion is surging around the country. A fifth generation rancher in South Dakota plans to open an 8,000 head per day beef processing facility. Meanwhile, Amarillo has a new 3,000 head facility slated to break ground next year, Nebraska has been moving forward with a 1,500 head per day processing plant, and Missouri is welcoming a 2,400 head per day plant. 

The legislation is supported by a number of outside national and local agriculture groups, including the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Livestock Marketing Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.

“The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association appreciates Sen. Ernst’s commitment to support Iowa’s beef cattle producers,” said Bob Noble, president of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. “Daily slaughter capacity in Iowa falls short of our fed cattle production. We recognize the value of livestock auction markets in our supply chain, representing the interests of both sellers and buyers. Updating the Packers and Stockyards Act to allow for their participation in the small and regional processing sector may facilitate a more competitive marketplace outside of the Big Four.”

“Livestock auction owners drive competition and should be able to push our industry forward with more competition and capacity in the packing sector,” said Jon Schaben, owner of Dunlap Livestock Auction. “We appreciate Senator Ernst leading the charge to allow for more investment in new local and regional packing capacity.”

“The basic construct of the stockyard model is a tired, old throwback to a time when large companies tried to control hard working family farms,” said Chad Tentinger, Principal Developer at Cattlemen’s Heritage Beef Company and 4th generation Iowa cattleman. “Sale barns are more efficient, local family enterprises that work in tandem with family farms for the mutual benefit of each other and growing Iowa’s agricultural foundation.”

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