By Dennis Sun, guest columnist
For those involved in agriculture, we always get suspicious when someone from Washington, D.C. says they want to do something to save America’s family farms and ranches.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) are saying just this as they have brought similar bills before the U.S. House and Senate. Sen. Booker said this legislation would “transform a broken system and create a level playing field” for independent family farms.
The Farm System Reform Act does have both good parts and bad parts. There are some national farm organizations that like the idea, but cattle organizations around the country are appalled by what’s in the bill.
Like any other bill submitted to Congress, the important parts are always in the details and where the funding is to be spent, as well as the amount of funding in the bill.
Sen. Booker has resubmitted this bill he introduced in 2019. I don’t know what happened in 2019, but it evidently was defeated or killed. The Senator must figure his chances are better this time.
The Farm System Reform Act of 2019 would strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act to protect family farmers and ranchers by restoring mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements for beef and pork and expand to dairy products. It would also prohibit the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from labeling foreign imported meat products as “Product of USA.”
This bill would create market transparency and protect farmers and ranchers from predatory purchasing practices and protect livestock and poultry farmers from retaliation. It would prohibit the use of unfair tournament or ranking systems for paying contract growers.
Most family farmers and ranchers would welcome the above parts of the bill. In reality, I think if USDA would just enforce the current Packers and Stockyards Act, this would go a long ways in helping family farmers and ranchers.
Then, we come to some parts of the act I think we need to take a long look at. Sen. Booker is a vegan and while that’s his choice and right, he also has the backing of some radical animal rights groups who want livestock producers to disappear and will go to any lengths to make it happen.
The parts of the bill that could or will harm livestock producers are to place an immediate moratorium on new and expanding large Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) over 1,000 head and phase out the largest CAFOs as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency by 2040. The act would also provide a voluntary buyout for farmers who want to transition out of operating a CAFO.
We’re all for breaking up the concentration of the meatpackers, but will eliminating the large cattle feeders hurt all in the cattle business? I think it will.
We have to consider if there will be an adequate number of new, smaller feeders to replace large feeders as well as their efficiency in feeding cattle. Sen. Booker seems to want no cattle feeding and to only utilize grass-fed cattle. This is not going to fly, especially in the export business. Some say it is a direct attack on cattle production. Consumers want beef from grain-fed cattle and so do others in countries that import American beef.
The most terrible part of the bill is it will have beef producers pitted against other beef producers over supporting the act, and it has already started. Beef producers divided are just what the sponsors of the act want to get rid of meat products.