WASHINGTON – The federal government again is being called upon to investigate possible anticompetitive activity in the beef packing industry.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) wrote a letter to President Donald Trump urging action. Marty Smith, president of NCBA, focused on boxed beef price increases and declines in both cattle futures and cash prices during the coronavirus pandemic and following a fire at the Tyson Foods Inc. beef plant in Holcomb, Kan. Smith said that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue responded to industry concerns by launching an investigation into the increase in boxed beef prices and the downturn in cattle prices.
“Now, six months into that investigation, we are asking for the current market volatility to be analyzed and incorporated into that ongoing investigation in the hope of identifying whether inappropriate influence occurred in the markets, and to provide our industry with recommendations on how we can update cattle markets to ensure they are equipped to function within today’s market realities,” Smith said. “We ask that USDA work closely with the Department of Justice throughout this process, conclude this investigation quickly, and release the findings to the industry as soon as possible.”
NCBA also asked the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to determine whether futures contracts remain a useful risk-management tool for cattle producers by examining the influence of speculators on the CME Group’s Live and Feeder Cattle futures contracts.
US Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) asked for public hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee and an expanded investigation by the US Department of Agriculture.
"I’ve heard concerns from Nebraskans across the state about the impact COVID-19 is having on their cattle operations and on the industry as a whole,” Fischer said. “Americans are purchasing more beef products at grocery stores, which is resulting in another round of windfall profits for meatpackers. Meanwhile, producers are taking price losses that threaten the viability of their businesses. Something must be done now.”
In a letter to members of the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, Fischer called for a public hearing to examine claims of price manipulation, collusion, restriction of competition and price gouging among other unfair practices within the meatpacking industry.
And, like the NCBA, she asked Perdue to expand the investigation into beef pricing margins following the Holcomb plant fire to include the recent impacts of the pandemic.
“Twice in the last year, events have highlighted cattle producers receiving diminished prices while boxed beef cutout prices have increased,” Fischer wrote in the letter. “If USDA does uncover any evidence of wrongdoing, the agency should immediately provide any and all relevant information to the Department of Justice, so that it can conduct a larger probe examining whether the current structure of the beef meatpacking industry and their actions are in compliance with US antitrust law.”