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Organic Consumers Association

As Beef Prices Stay Low, Small Ranchers Cry Foul

You may have noticed the price of beef is high, but for years most of the ranchers who raise the cattle have been barely getting by, and going out of business by the thousands.

Some blame the meatpackers, who, they say, manipulate the prices cattle producers get. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced plans to ramp up efforts to protect producers from packers. Some ranchers love the idea. Others hate it.

Ninety years ago, the area just outside downtown Kansas City was one of the world's largest stockyards. Decades ago, stockyards like this were the gathering point for cattle ready for slaughter.

"The packing houses would send buyers to bid aggressively to get all the cattle that they needed," says Bill Bullard, who runs R-CALF USA, a cattle producers' trade organization.

But the packing houses manipulated prices to the extent that Congress passed the Packers and Stock Yards act of 1921. Bullard can quote it line and verse.

"Packers are prohibited from engaging in any unfair, unjustly discriminatory or deceptive practice," he says. "That portion of the act has never been implemented."

Bullard says that lax oversight is putting ranchers like Randy Stevenson out of business.


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