WASHINGTON – US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said a US Department of Agriculture investigation into cattle futures and cash prices following a fire at a major beef processing plant will include pricing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Perdue tweeted, “USDA’s Packers and Stockyards Division will be extending our oversight to determine the causes of divergence between box and live beef prices, beginning with the Holcomb fire in KS last summer and now with COVID-19.”

Federal lawmakers and industry stakeholders have been sounding alarms about possible anticompetitive behavior in the meatpacking industry during the coronavirus pandemic and following the fire at the Tyson Foods beef plant in Holcomb, Kan., in August of 2019.

US Sen. John Thune (R-SD) became the most recent lawmaker to request an investigation into cattle market volatility.

“This is the second time in less than a year that cattle producers have faced extreme volatility in the cattle market,” Thune said in a letter to Perdue. “I appreciated your decision to direct the USDA Packers and Stockyards Division to launch an investigation into beef pricing margins following the Holcomb, Kansas, Tyson beef processing plant fire in August 2019. I urge you to conclude this investigation as soon as possible. In addition, I request that the Packers and Stockyards Division investigate the cattle market volatility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) wrote a letter to President Donald Trump urging action. 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 to examine claims of price manipulation, collusion, restriction of competition and price gouging among other unfair practices within the meatpacking industry.