Tester and Colleagues Demand Investigation into Consolidation, Unfair Competition in U.S. Cattle Market

Senators urge Department of Justice to investigate potential violations of antitrust laws in the face of skyrocketing corporate profits, plummeting live cattle prices

U.S. Senator Jon Tester and a group of his bipartisan colleagues are calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether the control large meatpackers have over the beef processing market violates U.S. antitrust laws and principles of fair competition.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Tester and his colleagues outlined the ongoing irregularities in cattle prices that have led to major corporate packers making significant profits while independent ranchers experience tightened margins and consumers face higher prices at the grocery store.

“In the last several years, the price of live cattle in the United States market has plummeted, while the price of boxed beef has significantly increased, raising consumer prices at the grocery store,” Tester and his colleagues wrote. “Concurrently, the major packing companies realized significant profits, while both U.S. beef consumers and independent cattle producers paid the price. These large price disparities are leading independent cattle producers to go broke and causing consumers to pay an unnecessary, over-inflated premium on beef.”

The U.S. meatpacking industry is significantly consolidated – just four companies operate 18 of the top 20 beef slaughter facilities in the country. Through formula and forward cattle pricing, large corporate packers are able to reduce the number of slaughters, curtail cash trades, and use depressed demand to manipulate future contracts and reduce the ability of independent ranchers to negotiate fair returns for their products.

Tester is leading the charge in the efforts to combat corporate consolidation and protect the livelihood of family farmers and ranchers. Following the steepest decline in cattle prices in forty years, Tester called on the Department of Agriculture to take immediate action to stabilize beef markets. He released his three-part Rancher Relief Plan aimed to provide more certainty to Montana producers and give consumers more access to Montana’s world-class products. These bipartisan initiatives include:

1. Increasing interstate commerce and diversifying meat production in Montana and neighboring states;
2. Legislation to ensure fair prices at the farm gate from large packers;
3. And the first bipartisan Senate push for mandatory Country of Origin Labeling since Congress repealed it in 2015.

Read Tester’s full letter to Attorney General Garland HERE.