Senate bill targets corporate packers | Beef

A bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee this summer aims to reduce consolidated power in the livestock market.

Known as the Meat and Poultry Special Investigators Act, this bipartisan bill would provide the US Department of Agriculture with a special investigator. Along with a team of fellow investigators with subpoena power, they would be dedicated to preventing and combating anti-competitive practices in the meat and poultry industries.

That’s a good thing, said Justin Tupper, vice president of the United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) and owner of St. Onge Livestock.

“I think the special prosecutor’s bill would be huge because we would get some real answers to some of these investigations,” Tupper said during a talk at the Dakotafest farm show in Mitchell, South Dakota.

The investigations Tupper was referring to include price fixing and antitrust violations between the “big four” meat processors: Cargill, JBS, National Beef Packing and Tyson Foods.

A joint statement between Sens. Mike Rounds, RS.D., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said producers today receive about 39 cents of every dollar a consumer spends on beef, compared to 60 cents they received a while ago. 50 years. Between 2015 and 2018, the gap between the cost of wholesale beef and the price paid to ranchers increased by 60%, a statistic reiterated by Tupper in his speech.

If passed, the bipartisan bill would allow packagers to be subpoenaed, which has not been an option so far.

It would have the power to take civil action against poultry packers and traders found guilty of participating in anti-competitive practices. The office would serve as a liaison with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

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The bill was sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., with 12 co-sponsors, including Sens. John Thune, RS.D., Rounds, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

“Anti-competitive behavior in the meatpacking industry harms both consumers and producers,” Rounds said. “Unfortunately, the concentration of packers in the beef industry is more consolidated today than it was when the Packers and Stockyards Act was enacted over 100 years ago. It is high time to tackle this problem.

Not everyone agrees with the proposed bill. In May, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association opposed it.

“Cattlemen strongly support effective oversight of the meatpacking industry, but the Special Investigators Bill does nothing to achieve this goal. Rather than focus on adequate staffing and funding for the USDA’s sorely under-resourced Packers and Stockyards Division, this hasty proposal was rushed through the legislative process without regard to the mess. confusing bureaucracy it would create,” said Ethan Lane, NCBA vice president of government affairs. said in a statement. “Arming the USDA with an unchecked subpoena and prosecutorial power while significantly undermining the Justice Department’s role in the process is bad practice.”

Lane said the bill comes at a time when producers are facing record inflation, soaring input costs, labor shortages and continued supply chain vulnerabilities. .

“Congress should work to address these pressing issues that reduce producer profitability,” Lane said.

Tupper addressed the divergence between the USCA, NCBA and other bovine organizations such as R-CALF on this issue and others, and said that right now, unity is more important than the goals of the individual groups.

“I can tell you from meeting all of these groups and trying to move forward, we agree 80% of the time, and those are the things we’re going to have to focus on if we’re going to move forward. ‘before being sustainable, which means cost-effective,’ he said.

Tupper said he expects the Meat and Poultry Special Investigators Act to pass the Senate in September.

Melisa Goss, deputy editor of the Tri-State Neighbor, is a South Dakota farmer whose love of travel has allowed her to see the vital impact of agriculture around the world, from America’s heartland to the rice paddies of Southeast Asia and many places in between. She moved to Hartford with her husband, daughter and miniature schnauzer. You can reach her at [email protected]

Norman D. Briggs