Tester Pushes Agriculture Secretary on Meat Packing Consolidation, JBS Hack, and Support for Small Processors
Secretary calls Senator’s Meat Packing Special Investigator Act “a good proposal…it is part of what needs to be done”
Continuing his fight to address consolidation and market imbalance in the meat packing industry, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today secured support from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for his bipartisan Meat Packing Special Investigator Act, which will create an Office of the Special Investigator for Competition Matters within the Packers and Stockyards Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate anti-competitive actions by meat packers and secure America's food security in the wake of the JBS ransomware attack.
"Last week, [Senators] Grassley, Rounds and myself dropped in a bill that creates a special investigator under the Packers and Stockyards Act that would be housed in the Department of Agriculture," said Tester. "They would have subpoena power and they would be able to really, I think, put some teeth into the Packers and Stockyards Act for price discovery and ensure there is transparency in the market. I am curious to know what you think about that proposal?"
"It's a good proposal, I think it's part of what needs to be done," responded Secretary Vilsack. "Clearly, Packers and Stockyards--the lines need to be very specifically strengthened and drawn...I think price discovery is important. I also think frankly we need more processing capacity."
Senator Tester, who has been working to increase American meat processing capacity for years, pressed Secretary Vilsack to support his longtime push to allow state inspected meat plants to sell across state lines, and he also secured a commitment from Vilsack that the USDA will address consolidation by creating a revolving fund with low interest loans to fund part of the cost of establishing new packing plants. Vilsack committed that the USDA will begin to identify funding streams by this summer.
"In a previous life, I processed beef as an added value to the farm," Tester told Secretary Vilsack. "And I can tell you that there is more demand out there from these small processors than they can fulfill right now. And if you combined a low-interest revolving fund-which I think the Department would end up making money on, by the way, on the long haul-with figuring out a way to [allow small processors to] sell across state lines, I think Katy bar the door, there's going to be a lot of good stuff happening."
Senator Tester's bipartisan Meat Packing Special Investigator Act, now supported by Secretary Vilsack, would create the "Office of the Special Investigator for Competition Matters" within the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Packers and Stockyards Division.
The new USDA special investigator will have a team of investigators, with subpoena power, dedicated to preventing and addressing anticompetitive practices in the meat and poultry industries and enforcing our nation's antitrust laws. They will coordinate and act in consultation with the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission and create a new bridge between the USDA and the Department of Homeland Security to protect the continuation of the food supply and increase our national security. With a team of dedicated staff, the USDA will have the ability to deeply investigate issues facing producers, safeguard producers by enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act, and protect America's food supply chain and national security.
Watch the full exchange between Senator Tester and Secretary Vilsack HERE