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Politics, Cattle and Beef

January 21, 2022

Current issues that could impact cattle production and markets.

“Pre-COVID, we had a just-in-time meat supply chain,” according to Scott Bennett, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). Packing plants chugged at full capacity, harvest animals left for slaughter as quick as they were ready, and meat left the plants and entered the supply chain immediately.

“After seeing some grocery store shelves empty in April and May of 2020, seeing part of the supply chain just jam up, I think the general public is wanting to go to a just-in-case meat supply chain,” Bennett said. He explained that’s the impetus behind consumer and lawmaker interest in developing small, regional packing capacity.

Bennett was speaking to members of the American Hereford Association (AHA), guests and allied industry partners during an educational forum at the organization’s Annual Membership Meeting and Conference in Kansas City, Mo, Oct. 22, 2021.

Some producer-relevant issues lawmakers are wrangling with stem directly from the pandemic, while others continue their long-time simmer. These are other insights Bennett shared.

Price discovery

Bennett noted heightened interest in cattle markets by Congress and producers. Plenty of that was driven by the eye-popping price spread between wholesale beef prices and fed cattle prices.

AFBF is currently the only producer trade association in Washington, D.C., that supports some form of mandatory minimum cash fed cattle trade, in order to increase price discovery. However, Bennett pointed out it would not necessarily be the silver bullet many want.

“Increased price discovery doesn’t necessarily mean higher prices. In fact, it could be the reverse,” Bennett said. “It could lower prices for producers.”

On a related note, Bennett emphasized the need for Congress to reauthorize Livestock Mandatory Reporting, which mandates public price reporting. 

Gene editing

“I’m sure it’s alarming to a lot of folks. My family [Knoll Crest Farm] has had Hereford cattle since 1944. The reason we are in the business is that generation after generation we selectively breed those cattle to become better, and it takes time,” Bennett explained.

Now, technology enables making immediate changes like polling horned cattle or making black ones red. Less talked about gene edits include such things as making cattle resistant to specific diseases or more adapted to specific climates.

So far, U.S. laws mostly prohibit gene-editing technology, so developers are going to other countries.

“American Farm Bureau, with other trade associations, is working vehemently with USDA and FDA to try to come up with some kind of regulatory protocol that makes sense, that actually encourages development of this technology,” Bennett explained. “Even though you may disagree with the potential it has, it’s much better to have it in our own backyard than in another country where we don’t have the ability to control the outcomes.”