Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) is preparing to introduce legislation to foster competition in livestock markets that serve family farmers and ranchers. The bill is intended to lay the foundation for a competition title in the 2007 farm bill. Unfortunately, there is no stampede of Senators beating a path to Senator Harkin’s door to co-sponsor the bill, despite the fact that during the election cycle they made a lot of hay with rhetoric about “standing up for family farmers and ranchers.”
Let us give credit where credit is due, however. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) quickly became a co-sponsor of Senator Harkin’s competition bill. And Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has announced his intent to reintroduce legislation banning meatpacker ownership of livestock.
Senator Harkin’s bill calls for fair treatment of producers who labor under contracts with packers and processors; seeks to define what constitutes an undue price preference when packers deal unfairly with small and mid sized farmers and ranchers; and establishes a special counsel’s office for enforcement of competition policy within USDA. Anyone who cannot muster the political will to support these provisions should not claim that they stand with family farmers and ranchers.
The American Meat Institute and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association are exerting pressure on Congress to oppose these reforms. But recently the Center for Rural Affairs joined 211 farm, faith and rural organizations in calling for a competition title, with these provisions, in the farm bill.
Family farm and ranch livestock production has been decimated in the five years that have passed since a conference committee tossed aside the hard fought competition reforms that were won on the Senate floor in 2002. Without action now, there will be far fewer farmers and ranchers to fight for in another five years.
Senators and Representatives whose voices are yet unheard on these issues, a vast majority, must steel their resolve and offer much needed leadership. Both Senator Harkin’s and Senator Grassley’s bills need and deserve broad, bipartisan co-sponsorship and support.
Each of us bears the responsibility of urging our Senators and Representatives to lead the debate, publicly, instead of following the herd. If enough of us demand that they stand with rural America, demand the leadership they promised in their campaigns, we will not lose. Time is of the essence, but every day that we stand, undaunted, brings us closer to victory.
Agree? Disagree? Post a comment here or contact John Crabtree, firstname.lastname@example.org
Center for Rural Affairs
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