Senator Booker bill would restore MCOOL, eliminate feedlots over 1,000 head
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) reintroduced legislation in July 15, 2021, to create a level playing field for independent family farmers and transform the broken system built by multi-national meatpacking companies. The Farm System Reform Act would, among other things, strengthen the Packers & Stockyards Act to crack down on the monopolistic practices of meatpackers and corporate integrators, place a moratorium on large factory farms, sometimes referred to as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and restore mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements. U.S. Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. This reintroduction also follows President Biden’s recent executive order promoting competition in the marketplace, which is an important first step toward restoring fairness for independent family farmers and ranchers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many of the serious weaknesses in our food system, said the Booker news release. In particular the hyper consolidation of our livestock and meat industry led to a near collapse of the supply chain in the early days of the pandemic. Consumers found empty shelves at their grocery stores, at least 259 meat processing workers died of COVID after their employers failed to provide safe working conditions, animals were cruelly killed, and farmers were left with no market for the livestock they produced. This broken system is not the result of inevitable market forces, but rather flows directly from the influence multinational meatpackers – who continued to make record profits during the pandemic – have over federal farm policy.
Booker says economic concentration in agriculture has been hurting our country, especially rural America, for decades. The top four beef packing companies control nearly 85% of the market. The top four pork packers control 71% of the market. These companies have too much market power, and it comes at the expense of independent family farmers, who earn just 14.3 cents of every dollar spent on food. Agricultural concentration hurts consumers too, who see higher prices, poorer quality, less innovation, and reduced access to food. Making things worse, U.S.D.A. has continued to allow beef and pork products that are shipped to the U.S. and processed or repackaged here to be labeled “product of U.S.A.,” even when the animal was raised in another country. This allows multinational meatpackers to pass their imported meat off as American, further eroding fair competition and preventing shoppers from supporting local rural communities.
“Large, multinational meatpackers, because of their buying power and size, are putting our food system at risk and harming everyone along the supply chain. We need to fix the broken system – that means giving family farmers and ranchers a fair shot and holding corporate integrators responsible for the harm they are causing,” said Senator Booker. “We must immediately begin to transition to a more sustainable and humane system. An important first step is ending our reliance on huge factory farms and investing in a system that focuses on resilient and regenerative production.”
Senator Booker is a known vegan.
According to the vegetarian resource group, vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry. Vegans, in addition to being vegetarian, do not use other animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics, and soaps derived from animal products.
The bill would put limits on the size of livestock feeding operations. Following are the maximum number of head that would be allowed:
* 700 mature dairy cows, milked or dry.
* 1,000 veal calves.
*1,000 cattle (including heifers, steers, bulls, cows, and calves) other than mature dairy cows or veal calves.
* 2,500 swine, each weighing not less than 55 pounds.
* 10,000 swine, each weighing not more than 55 pounds.
* 500 horses.
* 10,000 sheep or lambs.
* 55,000 turkeys.
In the case of an AFO that uses a liquid manure handling system:
* 30,000 laying hens or broilers; or
* 5,000 ducks; or
In the case of an AFO that uses a system other than a liquid manure handling system:
* 125,000 chickens (other than laying hens)
* 82,000 laying hens; or
* 30,000 ducks.
NCBA calls the legislation “misguided.”
“In the past week, Democrats in Washington have put forward two starkly different proposals for strengthening the future of American cattle farmers and ranchers,” said NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane. “One of these paths, namely the recent announcement from Secretary Vilsack, offers practical, long-term progress for our producers. The alternative (the Booker bill)…is the kind of broad, jumbled mess you get when you’re more focused on Twitter and talking points than the sound legislating rural Americans need.
“95 percent of cattle raised in the United States visit a feedyard. Feeding operations aren’t antithetical to small, family-owned farms and ranches — they’re part and parcel of the same, symbiotic supply chain that produces the most nutritious, sustainable beef in the world. Cattle feeders respond efficiently to meet a wide range of consumer demands, and that efficiency is one of the main reasons why the United States has had the lowest beef GHG emissions intensity in the world for 25 years. As our food supply chain is taxed by a growing number of mouths to feed at home and abroad, this efficient production system will be more vital than ever,” said Lane.
R-CALF USA appreciates the aspects of the bill that would encourage competition, but cannot support the bill because of the CAFO portion.
“The Booker bill contains both good and bad. The good is that it includes elements to restore the lost competition in the cattle market. It was the first to include the 50 percent spot market protection provision, it includes the ban on unpriced formula contracts, it includes the ban on packer ownership and control of cattle, and it reinstates country of origin labeling and kind of thumbs its nose at the WTO, and says this is our country, we can inform our consumers if we want to,” said the group’s CEO Bill Bullard.
“The bad part is it tries to limit the size of feedlots before competition has been restored and it’s putting a limit on the size of the very feedlots that have been dropping like flies,” he said.
“We’ve lost 75 percent of feedlots that are smaller than 1,000 head which means they are not profitable today. We need to start fixing that. We need to restore competition. If we restore competition, these smaller feedlots are returned to prosperity, that may solve the problem on its own,” he said. Bullard said R-CALF USA does not have policy to restrict feedlot size.
“We do not endorse the bill because of the restrictions on feedlots, but we certainly throw our support to all of those elements that will restore competition to our marketplace,” he said.
Booker’s bill has support from other coastal lawmakers including Californian Rep. Ro Khanna.
“If Congress doesn’t act soon, we risk losing an entire generation of family farms to multinational farming corporations,” said Rep. Ro Khanna. “The Farm System Reform Act is the clear way to ensure the American food system maintains fair competition, high animal welfare standards, & a dependable food chain. We must fix this broken system. Proud to reintroduce this critical legislation with Senator Booker to level the playing field for family farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers in the 21st century.”
“The factory farm agricultural model, which dominates our country’s food system, fuels toxic air and water contamination, drives dangerous and unfair working conditions, wreaks havoc on independent farmers and rural communities and threatens food safety,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The Farm System Reform Act is the bold approach we need to bring dangerous factory farming under control now—and begin the necessary transformation to a safe and equitable future for food consumers and workers alike.”
The Farm System Reform Act would:
Place an immediate moratorium on new and expanding large CAFOs, and phase out by 2040 the largest CAFOs as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency
Hold corporate integrators responsible for pollution and other harm caused by CAFOs
Provide a voluntary buyout for farmers who want to transition out of operating a CAFO
Strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act to protect family farmers and ranchers, including:
Prohibit the use of unfair tournament or ranking systems for paying contract growers
Protect livestock and poultry farmers from retaliation
Create market transparency and protect farmers and ranchers from predatory purchasing practices
Restore mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements for beef and pork and expand to dairy products
Prohibit the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) from labeling foreign imported meat products as “Product of USA”
The Farm System Reform Act is co-sponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
A list of endorsing organizations for the Farm System Reform Act can be found here.
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