WASHINGTON – On June 16, the House of Representatives passed the Lower Food and Fuel Cost Act.

Although much of the bill received bipartisan support, major agricultural trade groups remained opposed to the legislation that would establish a new special investigator of competition. 

The office of the special investigator would operate as part of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and have the authority to bring civil actions. Additionally, the Special Investigator would consult with the Federal Trade Commission, Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security regarding competition and trade practices across all of food and agriculture.

After speaking up against the provision in May, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and North American Meat Institute (NAMI) were among the trade groups to criticize the special investigator piece of legislation. 

“Rising food, fuel and fertilizer prices are hurting cattle producers around the country, but Congress is relentlessly focused on political posturing through this special investigator bill,” said Ethan Lane, NCBA’s vice president of government affairs. “NCBA strongly supports fairness and transparency in the market, but Congress is wasting time with legislative proposals in search of problems while ignoring real issues impacting cattle producers.”

Lane added that the bill was currently unfunded, which would redirect resources from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service at the expense of programs producers rely on like market data reporting, meat grading and the Cattle Contract Library pilot program.

The trade groups made their case by saying the new position would duplicate work done by the USDA’s Packers and Stockyards Division.

“Of particular concern is the creation of a special investigator empowered to enforce the new changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act regulations soon to be announced by the Biden Administration,” said Julie Anna Potts, president and chief executive officer of the Meat Institute. “These rules – like those previously proposed by USDA under then Secretary Tom Vilsack in 2010 – are likely to have far-reaching, unintended adverse consequences. The special investigator (and staff) would feel emboldened and obligated to bring as many cases as possible, warranted or not, to test and expand the legal limits of the new rules.” 

The legislation will now move to the US Senate for consideration.

The US Cattlemen's Association (USCA)  was in favor of the bipartisan effort to enhance national food security through several key provisions.
"The Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act will bring much-needed resources to the US Department of Agriculture to fight corruption in the meat and livestock industry," Brooke Miler, president of the USCA. " As independent processing capacity increases from an infusion of financial resources and technical support provided by the Administration, we will need watchful eyes at USDA to ensure that the multinational meat giants compete fairly in the marketplace."