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Agriculture

Grassley Sees Possible Opening On Livestock Reform Efforts With Vilsack’s Return To USDA

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Amy Mayer
/
IPR file
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack appeared together to advocate for a North American trade agreement in 2019. Vilsack served as U.S. agriculture secretary from 2009-2017 and will resume the post in the Biden administration.

A years-long bipartisan effort to improve competition in agriculture could benefit from the new administration.

At least that is Sen. Chuck Grassley’s, R-Iowa, view at the moment.

Grassley has been working with fellow farmer Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, to address what he sees as unfair practices from a handful of meatpacking companies, which dominate the beef market. In the current environment, he says it’s difficult for individual farmers and ranchers to shop for the best price for their cattle.

Grassley wants to see more beef cattle sold on the open market and gives that as one concrete metric that could begin to correct the problem of what he calls monopolistic practices from the four biggest meatpackers, which control 80 percent of the beef market. But even working together across party lines, progress has been slow.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced final changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act, which governs competition in the livestock sector. Supporters of small and independent beef producers decried it as favoring the corporations.

Grassley says the reform effort may get more traction when President-elect Joe Biden takes office and Tom Vilsack returns to the top of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I’m going to assume that’s there’s maybe a little better environment to take on corporations, not just in agriculture but across the board, in a Democrat administration than a Republican administration,” Grassley told reporters on Tuesday.

Grassley says during the senate confirmation process for Vilsack, he’ll ask about the recently approved changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act. Efforts to update the rules began many years ago and were approved last week by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

“Now maybe they would tell us, listening to their legal advice, that they can maybe do more than what Perdue did on this most recent rule,” Grassley says. “But they still may not be able to go as far as we’d want them to.”

At that point, Grassley says, it will be up to Congress to legislate a solution.