Sen. Kent Conrad (Democrat of North Dakota) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (Republican of Iowa) introduced an amendment to the Farm Bill that would prohibit beef packers from owning livestock. The Senate passed the Farm Bill this week, but the Conrad-Grassley amendment didn't.
Here's what happened.
The Senate leadership picked 73 amendments to be considered for inclusion in the Farm Bill. There were amendments about everything — GMO foods, the Defense Department and two that considered the use of airplanes to monitor spills from feedlots.
But the Conrad/Grassley amendment wasn't one of the 73.
Sen. Grassley explained back in May why the amendment was needed:
We are to the point where most farmers have to deliver their livestock to one of a few very large packers. Farmers’ bargaining power is diminished by the sheer size and economic position of the packers. But beyond that, farmers have to compete with the livestock owned by the packing plant itself. The packer ban would make sure the forces of the marketplace work for the benefit of the farmer as much as it does for the slaughterhouse.
Others in government saw the same problem. The Department of Justice and the USDA held a hearing on this issue two years ago in Fort Collins, Colorado. Thousands of ranchers attended, telling the Ag and Justice Secretaries that they faced a near monopoly in the meat packing industry.
It was an important issue then and it still is. One worth at least a vote. But this amendment wasn't among the 73 most important to get a hearing in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the House is chipping away on the little bit of protection livestock growers got with the implementation of new rules last year by the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). GIPSA had a long list of rules it proposed to level the playing field between livestock growers and meat buyers. The House blocked most of those rules last year, but GIPSA did manage to approve some protections for poultry and hog producers.
In the latest House appropriations bill, however, even those limited rules covering hogs and poultry are under attack. The White House released a statement saying that the current House Appropriations bill "effectively prevents USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration from further implementing the remaining portions of a rule on conduct violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921."
The White House statement continues: "The provision's proposal to rescind many components of the (GIPSA) rule that was finalized in December 2011, would prevent full implementation of this rule, which is needed to clarify conditions for industry compliance with the Packers and Stockyards Act and provide for a fairer marketplace."
The National Cattlemen have a different view on the subject. Here is what the group had to say today:
The other amendment vehemently opposed by cattlemen and women was offered by Sen. Chuck Grassley from Iowa. This amendment (#2170) would stop packer ownership of cattle. This is nothing new from the Senator. He makes this attempt during every farm bill and at every given opportunity. Fortunately, because of the cattle community’s work on educating and staunchly opposing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration’s rule on livestock marketing – the so-called GIPSA rule – we were able to stop this amendment from even being considered.
This amendment and ideology is based on ill-conceived notions that packer ownership of cattle manipulates the price of cattle for cattlemen. In fact, a USDA-funded study that resulted from the 2002 Farm Bill clearly defines that a packer ownership ban would have negative financial implications of family farmers and ranchers. The study also illustrates that the negative impact would trickle down to the consumer level by increasing meat prices and reducing choice at the grocery store. We will be working to ensure this amendment doesn’t show up on the House side either.
So, this week there was no vote on the packer ban in the Senate. And the House blocks implementation of regulations meant to bring a little market fairness into the lives of poultry and hog producers.
What a lively week for the nation's livestock raisers!
• Arch Coal announced it would lay off 600 Eastern Kentucky coal miners and 150 in West Virginia.
Utilities have been switching from coal to gas, as gas prices have dropped. "The U.S. coal industry is in the midst of a restructuring that will cause some players to exit the market and others, like Arch, to pare back operations until market conditions improve," Arch said in a May press release.
• The Daily Howler tells us how the bogus information about the use of "drones" to spy on ranchers and feed lots got going.
• The U.S. Department of Education has started an online "community" for rural schools. You can read about it here.
You can get to the site here. Doesn't look very active right now. The last post was more than a week ago.
• Here is the final vote on the farm bill in the Senate, by state:
• Wild map here showing invasive species in Minnesota.
• In a New York Times op-ed, two social scientists report on new research on the effects of immigration. John MacDonald and Robert Sampson report that in regions where immigrants have settled the last two decades, "crime has gone down, cities have grown, poor urban neighborhoods have been rebuilt, and small towns that were once on life support are springing back."
This is true in rural areas, too. The two write:
Scholars can’t say for sure that immigration caused these positive developments, but we know enough to debunk the notion that immigrants worsen social ills.
For example, in rural counties that experienced an influx of immigrants in the 1980s and ’90s, crime rates dropped by more than they did in rural counties that did not see high immigrant growth. Higher immigration was associated with reductions in homicide rates for white, black and Latino victims. In both Hazleton, Pa., which has a recent history of hostility toward immigration, and St. James, Minn., a much more welcoming community, migrants have also bolstered dwindling populations and helped to reverse economic decline.