LIVESTOCK HIGHLIGHTS: Top Stories of the Day

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TOP STORIES

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Fears of Farm Spending Cuts Loom After Tax Bill -- Market Talk

13:34 ET - With a sweeping tax bill now en route to President Trump's desk for signature, one farm group fears spending cuts hurtful to the nation's farmers are next. Plenty of farm groups supported the Republican tax overhaul, passed now by both the House and Senate. But the National Farmers Union, which advocates for small farmers, predicts danger for programs that support farmers and help low-income families buy food. "This tax bill leaves a $1.5 trillion hole in the budget - a hole that some members of Congress will want to fill with farm program and entitlement spending cuts," said Roger Johnson, the group's president, who vowed to fight cuts during a slump in the farm economy. (jesse.newman@wsj.com; @jessenewman13)

Chipotle Facing New Illness Reports at LA Location -- Market Talk

14:06 ET - Chipotle said it is looking into claims made on the websites iwaspoisoned.com and yelp.com of illnesses associated with eating at one of its Los Angeles restaurants. The chain, whose sales and stock price have been battered by food safety issues over the last two years, said the reports have not been validated and that it has not been contacted by any customers directly and is not aware of any reports having been made to the local health department. Five reports have been posted on iwaspoisoned.com representing seven people who claimed to have gotten sick after eating different dishes at the same Los Angeles location. The company said it has implemented "heightened preventative procedures" at the restaurant, which it does as a matter of course even if illness reports aren't substantiated. Shares of Chipotle are down 3.6%. (julie.jargon@wsj.com)

STORIES OF INTEREST

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Tyson Chairman's Jet Spending Climbs -- Market Talk

14:22 ET - Tyson Foods says its chairman John Tyson received $1.35M for private use of corporate aircraft in the meat giant's just-completed fiscal 2017, the highest annual figure since Tyson began breaking out the perquisite over a decade ago. Tyson, whose grandfather founded the company, has previously topped a list of Fortune 100 company officials for compensation for personal jet travel, and in 2016 he received $1.29M in such compensation. The Tyson family owns nearly all "supervoting" shares, giving the family majority voting power among shareholders. A Tyson spokeswoman says that Tyson's employment contract specifically permits his personal use of company-owned aircraft. Tyson's shares are up 32% this year, thanks to favorable profit margins in its core chicken business and growth in its prepared foods products, versus a 19.8% gain in the S&P 500. ( jacob.bunge@wsj.com ; @jacobbunge)

Longtime Food Lobbyist Joins Senate Staff -- Market Talk

11:28 ET - As jockeying over the next US farm bill gets into gear, a longtime food-industry lobbyist is joining the staff of Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), chairman of the Senate's agriculture committee. Roberts hires Robert Rosado, who joins from the Food Marketing Institute, where he advocated for grocery stores and distributors for seven years. Prior to that, Rosado worked for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents makers of genetically engineered seeds, and the American Meat Institute, a group for meatpackers. Roberts says Rosado's "experience and perspective on nutrition issues will be key in the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization," which will shape US farmer-support programs as well as the food-stamp program. (jacob.bunge@wsj.com; @jacobbunge)

Food-Industry Group Targets Animal-Rights Campaigns -- Market Talk

13:54 ET - It's a scrap between nonprofits in the food world, as a group backed by US restaurants and food companies takes aim at one of the top animal-welfare advocates. The Center for Consumer Freedom, funded in part by the food industry, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against the Humane Society of the US over alleged "deceptive advertising" and misrepresenting its spending to donors. The CCF, which has also protested soda taxes and defended genetically engineered crops, says the HSUS is masquerading as a pet shelter operator as it campaigns against the US meat industry; an HSUS spokeswoman calls the complaint the latest in a series of failed efforts to dry up HSUS funding. (jacob.bunge@wsj.com; @jacobbunge)

FUTURES MARKETS

Cattle Futures Under Pressure; Cash Prices Steady

Cattle futures slid as the week's physical cattle trade got off to a swift start.

December-dated live cattle futures fell 0.5%, to $1.194 a pound, at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, while later months fell further.

Hog futures bounced. CME February lean hog contracts rose 2.2%, to 68.375 cents a pound, rebounding after two consecutive days of losses.

CASH MARKETS

Zumbrota, Minn Hog Steady At $35.00 - Dec 20

Barrow and gilt prices at the Zumbrota, Minn., livestock market today are steady at $35.00 per hundredweight.

Sow prices are steady. Sows weighing 400-450 pounds are at $28.00-$29.00, 450-500 pounds are $28.00-$29.00 and those over 500 pounds are $31.00-$33.00.

The day's total run is estimated at 100 head.

Prices are provided by the Central Livestock Association.

Estimated U.S. Pork Packer Margin Index - Dec 20

All figures are on a per-head basis.

Date Standard Margin Estimated margin

Operating Index at vertically -

integrated operations

*

Dec 20 +$37.52 +$32.63

Dec 19 +$36.68 +$32.95

Dec 18 +$36.64 +$31.28

* Based on Iowa State University's latest estimated cost of production.

A positive number indicates a processing margin above the cost of production of the animals.

Beef-O-Meter

This report compares the USDA's latest beef carcass composite

values as a percentage of their respective year-ago prices.

Beef

For Today Choice 101.4

(Percent of Year-Ago) Select 101.3

USDA Boxed Beef, Pork Reports

Wholesale choice-grade beef prices Wednesday fell $3.67 per hundred pounds, to $198.09, according to the USDA. Select-grade prices rose $1.17 per hundred pounds, to $185.49. The total load count was 163. Wholesale pork prices fell 15 cents, to $75.58 a hundred pounds, based on Omaha, Neb., price quotes.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 20, 2017 17:44 ET (22:44 GMT)