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Two ranchers push for ban on packer ownership of cattle

(July 16, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- Paul Jackson of Ringling, Okla., and Nolan Jungclaus of Lake Lillian, Minn., both members of the National Farmers Union, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture today about livestock concentration negatively impacting their farming and ranching operations.

The hearing focused on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, and specifically explored a proposed ban on packers owning livestock more than 14 days before slaughter. Various farm groups had pushed for a ban on packer ownership in the 2002 farm bill; however, the ban did not remain in the final farm law.

As an independent grain and livestock producer, Jungclaus testified that concentration in the livestock industry, spearheaded by meatpackers who own and feed their own livestock, is “sucking the lifeblood out of rural communities.”

Jungclaus spelled out the need for action and not additional studies on the concentration issue. “A study will do nothing for family farmers while allowing the packers the opportunity to control the rest of the hog industry and an increasing share of the beef industry until there is nothing left for the American farmer except raising the owner’s livestock for them on contract,” he said.

“I don’t need a study to see the impact that consolidation has on Bob Hall who owns our local gas and grocery store and is forced to live on ever-tightening margins as packers and large retailers work together to eliminate competition,” Jungclaus said. “And, I don’t need a study to show me that the hardships our local businesses face directly impact our church offerings and the tax base that supports our schools and hospitals. It is time to take action and pass the ban on packer ownership of livestock.”

Jackson, a fourth-generation farmer who runs stocker cattle in south central Oklahoma, told the Committee that meatpackers, which already control up to 80 percent of the processing, have been able to undercut market competition by owning cattle and staying out of the cash market for extended periods of time.

In addition to a ban on packer ownership of livestock, Jackson said Congress must modernize the Packers and Stockyards Act to work in today’s cattle market to provide real protections agriculture producers. “The Packers and Stockyards Act is over 80-years-old and we don’t market in the same way as we did in the 1920’s,” he said.

“Livestock producers, better than anyone, know how to produce top quality cattle, but they require open, transparent and competitive markets to benefit from their production,” said Jackson.