The House Agriculture Committee held a hearing Thursday to address the current state of the livestock industry, meat processing, production and supply.
Among the witnesses testifying were Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President Todd Wilkinson of South Dakota, and François Léger of FPL Food, on behalf of the North American Meat Institute.
Sen. Grassley spoke on behalf of his bill, known as the 50/14 bill, that would require a minimum 50% of a meat packer’s weekly volume to be purchased on the open or spot market, noting the 14-day window for delivery of the cattle. “I want to make it clear that I’m not upset about paying more for my beef. I’m upset the farmer isn’t getting paid,” said Grassley.
Secretary Vilsack said USDA is implementing the structure for the $500 million fund announced in July to spark the growth of small and medium-size meat processing plants. “The expectation is that structure will take place sometime before the end of the year, and we will begin to make decisions and investments hopefully in the first quarter of 2022. We need additional capacity. We also need to strengthen our existing local, regional, small, and very small processing facilities.”
Wilkinson addressed the need to avoid one-size-fits-all policy prescriptions, and the importance of considering nuanced policies that properly address transparency, processing capacity, price discovery and oversight in the cattle markets. “As producers struggle to get by, large meatpackers have realized record-breaking windfall profits. These profits have not been shared equitability with cattle producers,” Wilkinson said.
Léger offered his perspective on the market as a beef packer and processor in Georgia. Léger told the Committee that production in meat packing and processing plants is tied to the number of employees working the line, and the pandemic has only exacerbated labor shortages. “We need cattle producers. And cattle producers need packers. And we need workers. Currently we see on average 20 percent daily absenteeism in our plant,” said Léger.House ag hearing - Sen. Chuck Grassley (5:18) House ag hearing - USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack (3:13) House ag hearing - NCBA VP Todd Wilkinson (4:58) House ag hearing - François Léger, NAMI (5:11)