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Animal Agriculture: Selected Issues for Congress

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The value of animal production on the 1.3 million U.S. dairy, livestock, and poultry farms (2002 Census of Agriculture) averages about $124 billion annually, more than half the total value of all U.S. agricultural production. The United States produces -- and consumes -- more beef/veal, pork, poultry, and milk than almost any other single country (China leads in pork). U.S. exports have grown rapidly in recent decades, as has integration of U.S. meat production and processing with that of Mexico and Canada.

Farming, processing, and marketing have all trended toward larger and fewer operations (often called consolidation). Increasingly, many phases of production and marketing may be managed or controlled by a single entity (sometimes called vertical integration). Complying with environmental and food safety regulations, and addressing changing consumer preferences about how food is produced, have added to costs and operational complexities for producers and processors alike.

In Congress, policy debate has revolved around impacts of the sector's structural and technological changes on farm prices, on the traditional system of smaller-sized, independent farms and ranches, and on rural communities and workers. Also at issue are implications for consumers, the environment, and trade. Inherent in these questions, which could be addressed during consideration of a new farm bill in 2007, is the appropriate role of government in intervening in or assisting the livestock, meat, and poultry industries. The following brief overview of selected issues is drawn from the CRS reports noted here, where sources and additional details can be found.