Senators Take Conflicting Stands On Meat Processor Contracts

In what is developing into a tense battleground over approaches to farming, USDA is receiving conflicting advice on its proposal for a shake-up of government regulation on the relationship between livestock and poultry producers and the companies for whom they produce.

In what is developing into a tense battleground over approaches to farming, USDA is receiving conflicting advice on its proposal for a shake-up of government regulation on the relationship between livestock and poultry producers and the companies for whom they produce.

Pressure is being applied from both sides, divided largely by political party and by whether members represented are cattle ranchers or poultry producers.

The strongest opposition has come from Republicans and from Democrats who represent major poultry-producing states. Georgia , Arkansas , Alabama , Mississippi and North Carolina together produce about 60 percent of all U.S. chicken.

The proposed rules included provisions to protect growers when they are require to upgrade their facilities, by giving them the opportunity to recoup at least 80 percent from the company they supply.

The latest salvo was fired by U.S. senators on Aug. 13 in a letter urging Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to implement new rules quickly "to restore competitive markets and contract fairness to livestock and poultry markets." The letter was signed by 20 Democrats and one Republican, largely from states with small farms and cattle ranching but none with significant poultry production.

By contrast, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and 16 other senators, mostly from major poultry states, have urged Vilsack to proceed more slowly.

They are worried that the proposal will force dramatic change and harm the farm and ranch families that the rule is intended to protect, reduce consumer choice and increase costs by limiting the processors' flexibility or special marketing arrangement that allow niche and special branded products.

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