WASHINGTON – The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) recently requested a written update on the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation launched nearly two years ago.

In June 2020, the DOJ issued subpoenas to Tyson Foods Inc., JBS SA, Cargill and National Beef Inc., after public officials, consumer groups and rancher organizations called on the agency to investigate anticompetitive behavior and price volatility in the live and fed cattle markets. AFBF inquired about the status of the investigation to update their members.

“With over 80% of the fed cattle market controlled by only four major packing companies, we are concerned about the control these firms have in the fed cattle market,” Zippy Duvall, AFBF president, said in a letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland. “With unprecedented volatility in the cattle markets in 2020 stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and preceded by extreme volatility in the fall of 2019 stemming from the Tyson plant fire in Holcomb, Kan., we seek a written update on the Department’s investigation surrounding the role the major packing companies played surrounding this volatility.

“While we understand the COVID-19 pandemic caused supply chain and labor issues within the meatpacking sector, the volatility in the markets during this time caused extreme uncertainty for our country’s cattle producers,” Duvall said.

Tyson Foods cooperated with the DOJ on the agency’s investigation into anticompetitive behavior in the broiler poultry industry that resulted in federal indictments. The retrial of 10 poultry industry executives is slated to begin Feb. 22 after a mistrial in December 2021.

JBS settled cases involving prices for beef and pork. In early February, the São Paulo-based processor agreed to pay $52.5 million to settle a lawsuit accusing the company of conspiring to fix prices for beef.