Grassley: ‘The cattle market industry is broken’

    Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. (Screen shot from C-SPAN livestream of hearing)

    U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa says a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on market disruption in the cattle industry underscores the need for congressional action.

    Grassley called on USDA to disclose the report last month. He is also urging Congress to enact price transparency measures to improve fairness for consumers and independent producers.

    The USDA report examines the market impact of an August 2019 fire at a Tyson Foods processing facility in Kansas, as well as the issues arising from closed processing-plant facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “The cattle market industry is broken,” Grassley said. “Years of rampant consolidation by meatpackers has led to unfair access for producers and (an) easily-disrupted meat supply for consumers. The ongoing pandemic has only intensified this reality. During my 99-county meetings, Iowans regularly decry these unfair and uncompetitive market realities. Thankfully, the Trump administration has created a roadmap that can return transparency and fairness to the cattle market.

    “As USDA continues to investigate market manipulation and unfair practices, today’s report lays out steps we can take to fix this marketplace,” Grassley said. “Congress has a responsibility to heed the advice of this report and take action to restore cattle price transparency when we reauthorize Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting requirements.”

    After years of consolidation, four major companies — Tyson, Cargill, National Beef and JBS — control more than 80% of the market, intensifying the impact of the pandemic on the industry and risking permanent harm to America’s beef producers, Grassley said.

    In May, Grassley introduced bipartisan legislation that he said would help foster efficient markets and increase competition and transparency. He first introduced the bill in 2002, and reintroduced it every Congress until 2009.

    The bill will require a minimum 50% of a packer’s weekly volume of beef slaughter to come as a result of purchases made on the open market or spot market.

    Clark Kauffman
    Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.