WASHINGTON – Eleven state attorneys general added their voices to a growing chorus of public officials and cattle producers urging the federal government to investigate possible anticompetitive business practices in the US meat industry.
In a letter addressed to US Attorney General William Barr, the state officials requested the Department of Justice (DOJ) lead a thorough examination of the competitive dynamics of the meat industry.
“Even if, after investigation, there is no appropriate enforcement action that can be pursued, we would suggest that regulatory strategies should be explored to promote competition, address market manipulation, and protect consumers,” the letter said. “The DOJ is in the ideal position to lead such an effort.”
The attorneys general noted that the concentrated market structure of the beef industry made it particularly susceptible to market manipulation, especially during times of food insecurity such as the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“During an economic downturn, such as that caused by the current pandemic, firms’ ability to harm American consumers through market manipulation and coordinated behavior exacts a greater toll, providing an additional reason for conducting a careful inquiry into this industry,” the letter said.
Wayne Stenehjem, attorney general of North Dakota; Philip Weiser, attorney general of Colorado; Eric Schmitt, attorney general of Missouri; Tim Fox, attorney general of Montana; Mark Brnovich, attorney general of Arizona; Lawrence Wasden, attorney general of Idaho; Tom Miller, attorney general of Iowa; Keith Ellison, attorney general of Minnesota; Douglas Peterson, attorney general of Nebraska; Jason Ravnsborg, attorney general of South Dakota; and Bridget Hill, attorney general of Wyoming, signed the letter.
US Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, applauded the action. In April, Fischer asked for public hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee and an expanded investigation by the US Department of Agriculture.
“It’s concerning to see serious price losses for producers while packers are seeing record profits,” Fischer said. “I have been pushing hard for investigations and agree that an inquiry by the DOJ would help gather the needed information to ensure the integrity of the beef supply chain during this pandemic.”
US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said a US Department of Agriculture investigation into cattle futures and cash prices following the 2019 fire at Tyson Foods’ Holcomb, Kan., beef processing plant will include pricing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ranch group R-CALF USA wrote to President Donald Trump and congressional leaders in April requesting a review to determine if the meat industry should be decentralized. The group urged two immediate industry reforms including mandatory country of origin labeling and legislation that would require beef packers to participate in the price discovery market at a level above 50%.