Tyson beef (copy)

Workers process beef at the Tyson Foods plant in Pasco, Wash.

Legislation aimed at protecting processing plant workers and reforming the cattle market has been introduced in Congress.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., on Monday announced the Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act of 2021 to provide stronger workplace protections for workers in meat and poultry processing plants.

In addition to worker protections, the 93-page bill includes systemic reforms such as strengthening the Packers and Stockyards Act. It also calls requires a report from the Government Accountability Office on the fragility of the food system with respect to meat and poultry.

R-CALF USA strongly endorses the legislation, saying it would substantively reform the U.S. cattle market.

It would prohibit current forward contracts that require cattle sellers to commit cattle to a packer without knowing even the base price the packers would use for determining the value of their cattle, R-CALF said.

The legislation would require any contract for delivery of cattle more than seven days before slaughter to contain a base price that can be equated to a fixed dollar amount.

The legislation also:

• Bans the nation’s largest packers from owning and feeding cattle more than 7 days before slaughter.

• Requires each plant owned by the largest packers to purchase at least 50% of their cattle needs from the competitive cash market each day and to slaughter those cattle within 7 days.

• Prohibits any conduct by the packers that adversely affects competition regardless of any business justification claimed by the packers.

• Clarifies that a showing of harm to competition is not necessary for producers to protect themselves from anticompetitive conduct by the packers.

• Restores mandatory country of origin labeling for beef and pork and adds dairy products.

• Authorizes the recovery of attorney fees in successful cases filed under the Packers and Stockyards Act.

• Prohibits small processing plants that receive a USDA grant to expand from being sold to packers with more than 10% market share for a period of 10 years.

“This new act is the ‘silver bullet’ we’ve been seeking to immediately fix the broken market and reverse the alarming contraction of the U.S. cattle industry,” said Bill Bullard, R-CALF CEO.

“This much-needed, comprehensive overhaul of the systemically broken cattle market, along with its worker-related reforms, elevates the new act to that of the 2021 version of the 100-year-old Packers and Stockyards Act, which is sorely needed by cattle producers, workers and consumers,” he said.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association disagrees on the merits of the bill’s provisions for the cattle market.

“There’s no such thing as a silver bullet that will solve all the challenges facing cattle producers,” said Ethan Lane, NCBA vice president of government affairs.

“This bill includes such a broad grab-bag of provisions, everything from restricting the distribution of USDA-approved grants for small processors to targeting processing plants for the publication of private employee demographic information,” he said.

That’s because Booker “does not actually believe animal agriculture should continue in the first place,” he said. Booker is known on Capitol Hill as a vegan.

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is still reviewing the bill, said Lia Biondo, USCA’s director of policy outreach.

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