Meat industry rebuffed in farm bill push

Meat and poultry lobbyists vowed to oppose the farm bill on Monday after two of their key priorities were left on the cutting room floor.
 
The bill is expected to be released Monday evening, and livestock provisions were among the last to be dealt with. 
 
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Sources confirmed that negotiators have left out language aimed at curtailing a meat country-of-origin labeling (MCOOL) requirement and one aimed at restricting activities by the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA).  
 
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) insisted the language be left out despite a push from House Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.).
 
The American Meat Institute, National Catttleman’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation
and North American Meat Association announced their opposition in a Monday letter to Stabenow and Lucas. 
 
“We are struck by the fact that a sensible resolution was not achieved for the GIPSA and MCOOL issues, and therefore, we will actively oppose final passage of the Farm Bill, if these issues are not addressed,” the letter states. 
 
The country-of-origin labeling requirement is backed by consumer groups and some ranchers, but has caused logistical headaches for the meat processing industry, which regularly co-mingles meat from Canadian and Mexican animals.  
 
The technical problems prompted a successful World Trade Organization complaint from Canada and Mexico, which could retaliate against U.S. exports if the MCOOL regulations are not substantially changed or repealed.
 
A key spokesman for ranchers said that the “aggressive” move by the meat processors to oppose the bill would fail.
 
“Will the packers shut it down? Absolutely not,” U.S. Cattleman’s Beef Association lobbyist Jess Peterson said. He noted the bill has billions in disaster relief for ranchers that will be key to keeping packers supplied with cattle.
 
“It’s too late to stop the bill,” he said.
 
The GIPSA issue involves regulations that supporters say give growers are fairer shot at selling livestock to processors, which have been accused of anti-competitive practices in the past.  
 
The meat and poultry industry say the requirements cost billions of dollars. They favored a sweeping amendment by Rep. Michael Conaway (R-Texas) and Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) to rein in the rules.
 
“The U.S. livestock and poultry industries appreciate all of your efforts to resolve the many contentious issues where compromises were found to bring this Farm Bill close to the finish line. We know that this has been a lengthy and difficult task,” the meat industry letter states.
 
“However, we must express our deep disappointment with the decision to exclude language that was in the House-passed version of the bill on the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA), the Conaway-Costa amendment. “
 
A coalition of consumer and rancher groups led by Food and Water Watch and R-CALF USA on Monday urged farm bill conferees not to bow to the meat industry threat.
 
"The Farm Bill conferees must resist the last-ditch counter-attack by the meatpacking and poultry lobbies and stand up for the millions of working farmers and ranchers across the country and the hundreds of millions of consumers that support the country-of-origin labels that were finalized in 2013," the groups stated. 
 
A separate statement from the National Farmers Union blasted the meat industry for its stance.