Meat + Poultry: Senators revive legislation regarding USDA antitrust investigator
WASHINGTON – Three US lawmakers reintroduced the Meat Packing Special Investigator Act that would create the Office of the Special Investigator for Competition Matters within the US Department of Agriculture.
In a new statement, Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), said the office would have a team of investigators that would be responsible for targeting and preventing anticompetitive practices among prominent players in the meat and poultry industries.
“Anticompetitive behavior in the meat packing industry hurts both consumers and producers,” Rounds said. “Unfortunately, packer concentration in the beef industry is more consolidated today than it was when the Packers and Stockyards Act was first signed into law over 100 years ago. For years, the gap has widened between the price paid to cattle producers for their high-quality American products and the price of beef at the grocery store. Meanwhile, the four largest beef packers, who control 85% of our beef processing capacity, have enjoyed record profits. This has resulted in an average of nearly 17,000 cattle ranchers going out of business each year since 1980. This bipartisan legislation seeks to address these anticompetitive practices that threaten the nation’s food supply and run family ranches out of business.”
Tester lauded the reintroduction by explaining his position with cattlemen in Montana.
“Folks in Washington don’t understand that the deck is stacked against Montana’s cattle producers,” he said. “As the Senate’s only working farmer, I’ll take on anyone to make sure that Montana’s family farmers and ranchers get a fair chance to compete in the marketplace. For too long, massive multi-national conglomerates have run the tables on our producers — who produce the best beef in the world — and our bipartisan bill will give them the chance to compete on a level playing field.”
Grassley also added his concerns about how the meat processing market has trended during the last few decades.
“Increased consolidation and anticompetitive tactics by meat packers continue to create unfair markets for meat producers and consumers alike,” he said. “In the last few years, we’ve seen settlement after settlement from major packers accused of distorting the market. It’s time we beef up tools to protect farm families and folks at the meat counter. This bill provides USDA with the necessary tools to strengthen enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, increase coordination with DOJ, FTC, and DHS and to foster a fair and functional marketplace for everyone who grows, produces, and enjoys quality American meat.”
In previous testimony in 2022, Julie Anna Potts, president and chief executive officer of the North American Meat Institute, expressed the association’s opinion on the proposed legislation.
“The Special Investigator (and staff) would feel emboldened and obligated to bring as many cases as possible, whether warranted or not, to test the legal limits of the new rules,” Potts said in her testimony. “The resulting legal uncertainty and chaos will accelerate changes in livestock and poultry marketing that will likely add cost to producers and packers and up-end the supply chain.”