WASHINGTON (B)--A group of U.S. legislators is calling on Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman to help alleviate concentration in the livestock industry by limiting packer ownership of livestock as well as the ability of meat packers to forward contract cattle.

A letter sent recently by senators from 11 midwestern and western states endorses a proposal by the Western Organization of Resource Councils calling on USDA to limit the use of captive supplies of cattle by beef packers. Three House members also signed the letter.

"As you know, market concentration limits true competition in the marketplace and thus the vitality of the independent producers," the legislators wrote in their letter. "It is time to address the issue."

The proposal would forbid meat packers from forward contracting cattle unless the contract contained a fixed minimum dollar price and was offered in an open bid. "

Many ranchers and legislators have been concerned in recent years as the number of companies operating meat packing operations, feedlots and slaughterhouses has diminished considerably. Congress passed livestock price reporting legislation in 1999 in another move to help ranchers in an increasingly concentrated market.

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