WASHINGTON – Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue directed the Packers and Stockyards Division of the US Dept. of Agriculture to investigate recent beef pricing margins for evidence of fraud in the wake of the fire at Tyson Food Inc.’s Holcomb, Kansas, beef processing plant.
The Packers and Stockyards Division will be looking for any evidence of “…price manipulation, collusion, restrictions of competition or other unfair practices.”
“If any unfair practices are detected, we will take quick enforcement action,” Perdue warned. “USDA remains in close communication with plant management and other stakeholders to understand the fire’s impact to industry.”
In response to the announcement, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) said, “The devastating fire at the Tyson Foods Beef Plant in Holcomb, Kansas created market uncertainty and disrupted cattle slaughter capacity. No one, not producers, packers, processors, retailers or consumers could have anticipated the fire and its impact on the market. Our member companies rely on their suppliers, have operated in the marketplace with integrity and we are confident have acted appropriately.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) welcomed the investigation. NCBA President Jennifer Houston said in a statement, “Today’s announcement by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue demonstrates the government’s understanding of the extreme strain placed on the cattle industry by the plant fire in Holcomb, Kansas.
“We encourage USDA to look at all aspects of the beef supply chain and to utilize internal and external expertise in this investigation,” she said. “We believe it adds transparency that will help build confidence in the markets among cattlemen and women.”
Tyson closed the Holcomb plant indefinitely following the Aug. 9 fire that started in the box shop of the Holcomb plant. The fire damaged conduit and piping systems, harvest floor equipment, and electrical and hydraulic systems.
Perdue did not say what, if anything, triggered the investigation. His statement comes after USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach pledged that the PSD would “…continue to monitor cattle prices and procurement activities to prevent any illegal activity.”
“If USDA detects any unfair practices, we will quickly investigate and take appropriate enforcement action,” Ibach said, and he encouraged producers or sellers to contact the PSD Western Regional Office regarding payment or contract concerns.
The Holcomb plant closure is causing significant disruptions to the cattle industry. The plant processed 6,000 head of cattle per day representing 6 percent of total US processing capacity.
“I have spent this summer visiting with cattle ranchers across the country,” Perdue said, “and I know this is a difficult time for the industry as a whole. USDA is committed to ensuring support is available to ranchers who work hard to the feed the United States and the world.”