DES MOINES-- Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and 20 other State Attorneys General are asking Congress to require meat packers to report crucial price information to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, who in turn would publicly report the information the next day, without identifying the specific packers or disclosing other proprietary business information.
The attorneys general also proposed that Congress require packers to submit a copy of all contracts to the Secretary who would make them available publicly as well in a manner that preserved confidentiality.
In a letter delivered Tuesday to Congressional leaders and heads of the Congressional agriculture committees, the State Attorneys General said, "We strongly urge you to enact legislation that would bring transparency, fairness, and competitiveness to the livestock industry."
Miller said: "This is a matter of fairness for both producers and consumers. We point out that there is an extraordinary level of concentration in livestock slaughter and retailing, and that brings a serious potential for anti-competitive practices that leave producers with low prices and consumers with high prices."
The letter from the Attorneys General noted that suspicions were only heightened by the recent crisis in the pork industry. "Pries paid to hog producers reached historic lows in December 1998, but consumers did not see a corresponding price reduction for pork in the grocery store," they wrote. "In fact, the farm-to-retail price spread for pork rose to record levels during the period. At the same time, packers posted record profits for the fourth quarter of 1998."
Miller said, "It is more important than ever to have open and fair markets with a depressed farm economy and low livestock prices. Producers need accurate and ample market information in order to get a fair shake. We need much more transparency in the marketplace."
The Attorneys General also called for whistle-blower protection so that producers could report allegations of wrongful acts by meat packers without risk of packer reprisal, especially since many producers rely on only one or two packers for bids. The letter said Congress should strengthen the Packers & Stockyards Act so packers could not retaliate against livestock producers.
The letter, which was circulated by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, also was signed by the Attorneys General of CT, ID, IL, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, ND, OH, OK, PA, SD, UT, VT, WA, WV, WI, and WY.