Meat Industry Holds Line on Lobby Spending

Given the rise of food activists and their effective use of the internet and other media, you might expect the meat industry to be revving its lobby engines.

As Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation,” has said: “We’ve never had food companies this powerful in our history.”

Yet with the notable exception of the company that manufacturers the beef product pejoratively known as “pink slime,” spending by the meat lobby has remained fairly steady.

We analyzed congressional filings by 15 top companies and trade groups in the sector and found that total lobby expenditures hovered between $6.5 million and $6.8 million over the past four years. Spending in the first quarter of 2012 is on track to match previous years.

Lobbying organization 2012 Q1 2011 2010 2009 2008 Change 2008-2011
Tyson Foods $505,278 $2,381,036 $2,586,312 $2,498,540 $2,671,433 -10.9%
Smithfield Foods $347,500 $1,345,000 $1,288,000 $1,310,000 $1,247,000 7.9%
National Pork Producers Council $300,410 $1,307,903 $1,126,549 $1,305,811 $1,199,395 9.0%
Hormel Foods $118,972 $387,037 $354,956 $331,161 $326,855 18.4%
National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn $91,382 $326,706 $286,706 $335,788 $328,620 -0.6%
American Meat Institute $40,000 $241,000 $263,000 $256,000 $269,000 -10.4%
Canadian Cattlemens Assn $40,000 $190,000 $110,000 $230,000 $70,000 171.4%
Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund $25,000 $175,000 $200,000 $200,000 $130,000 34.6%
Beef Products Inc $30,000 $140,000 $80,000 $30,000 $0 NA
Agri Beef $35,000 $115,000 $80,000 $80,000 $90,000 27.8%
Cargill Inc $10,000 $40,000 $40,000 $40,000 $40,000 0.0%
Kane Meat Packing $10,000 $40,000 $50,000 $50,000 $40,000 0.0%
US Premium Beef $10,000 $40,000 $40,000 $40,000 $40,000 0.0%
National Beef Packing $10,000 $40,000 $40,000 $40,000 $40,000 0.0%
National Meat Assn $7,461 $30,000 $40,000 $45,472 $51,904 -42.2%
TOTAL $1,581,003 $6,798,682 $6,585,523 $6,792,772 $6,544,207 3.9%

Sources: First Street, Center for Responsive Politics

Poultry and pork led the top lobby spenders in 2011.

Tyson Foods, No. 1 on our list, spent nearly $2.4 million lobbying in Washington last year. Smithfield Foods and the National Pork Producers Council ranked second and third.

Tyson’s lobbyists include two members of the First Street 30: former Sens. John Breaux (D-LA) and Trent Lott (R-MS).

One of the company’s big concerns in 2011 was legislation that would strengthen requirements that employers verify the legal status of immigrant workers.

Smithfield Foods opposed a ban on meat packer ownership of livestock. It also lobbied on rules regarding the marketing of livestock and poultry, and supported trade policies promoting agricultural exports.

The pork producers also addressed trade issues, particularly access to markets in other meat-exporting countries such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil and Canada.

The American Meat Institute was sixth on our list. Among the trade group’s legislative concerns: ethanol subsidies, trans fat truth in labeling and livestock marketing regulations.

Beef Products Inc., the company that manufactures the pink stuff, which it prefers to call “lean finely textured beef,” had no Washington lobby budget in 2008. Last year, it spent $140,000.

Not surprisingly, it directed its lobbying efforts toward food safety issues. Its lobbyists at Olsson Frank Weeda include former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD), a former member of the House Agriculture Committee and wife of former Rep. Max Sandlin (D-TX).

Some of the organizations on our list also dedicate significant amounts to political activities.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Tyson Foods has contributed $118,019 in the current election cycle. Donations so far heavily favor Republicans.

Smithfield Foods has donated $88,309, with contributions more evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

The American Meat Institute is outspending both organizations. It contributed $242,150 in the 2010 elections, and has given $153,681 so far in 2012. Data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show that 86 percent of its donations went to the GOP.

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