Thursday, July 22, 2010

Meatpacker groups spurn Nebraska radio station's debate on competition and proposed rules

The American Meat Institute, National Meat Association and National Cattlemen's Beef Association have declined an offer from a Nebraska radio station to debate the state of competition in the U.S. cattle and beef industries. R-CALF, a cattle ranchers' group that advocates reduced concentration among meatpackers, had accepted an invitation to the debate proposed by a station in Gordon, Neb. "KSDZ-FM’s invitation to those four groups comes amid the comment period for proposed changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act that USDA says will increase competition in the industry," Tom Johnston of MeatingPlace reports.

AMI President J. Patrick Boyle told MeatingPlace the controversy is best addressed by competing producers who will be hurt by USDA’s "undue preference rule." Boyle, however, was not shy in explaining his group's position on the proposal. "This rule would turn back the clock on today’s modern livestock marketing system and ‘recommoditize’ the meat industry," he told Johnston. "It would make illegal through the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen many of the practices that have been mutually beneficial to producers, their financial lenders and packers alike, thereby jeopardizing the value-added, branded products which our customers demand and placing U.S. meat exports at a competitive disadvantage."

NMA said it declined the invitation because it felt the debate was not focused on its primary issues of concern. "NMA’s expertise is with food safety and regulatory oversight of packers and processors," spokesman Jeremy Russell told Johnston. "The focus of this debate is on ‘cattle industry competition,’ something more appropriate for producer groups." NCBA CEO Forrest Roberts also declined the offer, telling KSDZ, "We do not want to divert attention away from educating USDA and decision-makers in Washington D.C." The comment period for the proposed rules ends Aug. 23, though meatpackers and several members of Congress are lobbying for an extension. (Read more)

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