A Senate committee on Wednesday effectively killed a bill intended to impose operating restrictions on an Idaho rancher who has acquired about 70% of Hawaii’s beef processing capacity.

Instead, Sen. Mike Gabbard, who chairs the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee, told the bill’s proponents and opponents to sit down and work things out.

“If no can, at least you tried,” Gabbard said.

Parker Ranch on the Big Island is a major producer of local grass-fed beef in Hawaii. Courtesy: Parker Ranch

The bill was sponsored by Big Island Sen. Lorraine Inouye but was written primarily by Parker Ranch’s president and chief executive, Dutch Kuyper. And the measure was meant to ensure brands like Parker Ranch’s Paniolo Cattle Co. and Kuahiwi Ranch’s beef have access to the Big Island facility operation acquired recently by Idaho billionaire Frank VanderSloot.

The bill would have set aside 50% of capacity for these other brands, and let VanderSloot use the other 50% for his brands.

Hawaii Grown

VanderSloot also owns a large processing facility on Oahu, and Kuyper expressed concerns that VanderSloot would combine his dominant position with illegal trade practices to gain control of the cattle industry.

But many small ranchers testified that Parker Ranch is the one that’s dominated the industry for too long and said they welcome VanderSloot and his promises to expand capacity at his processing facilities.

What might have been a marathon hearing exploring complex issues like antitrust law, regulatory takings and the federal statute governing meatpacking ended up a fairly brief affair, as Gabbard kept testimony limited to a few minutes for each person. In the end, Gabbard appeared most swayed by the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office, which has raised concerns about the bill’s constitutionality.

Although the state of Hawaii owns the land on which the slaughterhouses rest, VanderSloot has a lease that gives him rights to use the facilities and ownership of improvements. The attorney general’s office has said a law interfering with VanderSloot’s rights could amount to a taking that would require the state to compensate him.

Kuyper disagreed.

“The specific question of constitutionality and property rights is irrelevant in my view,” said Kuyper, who is not a lawyer. “There’s no taking of property, per se.”

“Hawaii Grown” is funded in part by grants from the Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation, the Marisla Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation, and the Frost Family Foundation.

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