South Dakota Republicans Sen. John Thune and Rep. Dusty Johnson spearheaded a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, urging the Department of Justice to move forward with its investigation into anticompetitive practices in the meatpacking industry. Thune and Johnson’s bicameral letter also requested that the DOJ provide Congress with updates on its investigation and encouraged ongoing vigilance on this issue.
“It is critically important that producers have fair and transparent markets for the commodities they produce,” the members of Congress wrote. “We urge the DOJ Antitrust Division to continue vigilance and where possible, provide updates of findings.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association released a statement saying that it appreciated the effort of the legislators.
“Despite strong consumer demand and reopening across much of the country, cattle producers face significant business challenges. The farmers and ranchers NCBA represents are contending with high market volatility, drought, and extreme input costs, and they can’t capture the value they deserve for the high-quality product they supply,” said NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane.
Lane continued, “We have a high supply of cattle at one end of this equation and a high demand for U.S. beef at the other, but the middle is being absolutely choked by the lack of processing capacity. It’s in the best interests of both producers and consumers for the Department of Justice to get to the bottom of the current market dynamics, and assess why they seemingly always result in producers getting the short end of the deal. Cattle producers deserve to know whether or not the price disparity that has plagued our market is the result of anti-competitive or other inappropriate practices in the packing sector. We thank Senator Thune and Congressman Johnson for keeping up the drumbeat on this critical issue. We hope their bicameral request for a progress report will be met at DOJ with the urgency it warrants, and we hope to see results from the Attorney General soon.”
Over the last two years, the beef and cattle markets have experienced two unique “black swan” disruptions that impacted the markets in similar ways. The first event was the shutdown of a Tyson packing plant in Kansas for approximately four months after a significant fire. The second event is the spread of COVID-19 throughout the U.S. and its resulting impact on consumer spending and the beef supply chain. Following these events, the wholesale price of beef skyrocketed, while the price producers received for their cattle cratered.
The nation’s four biggest meatpackers — Tyson Foods Inc., JBS SA, Cargill Inc., and National Beef Inc. — have been under investigation for nearly a year now. Together, they control more than 80 percent of the U.S. beef processing market.
The letter was also signed by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Reps. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), Liz Cheney, (R-Wyo.), Randy Feenstra (R-Iowa), Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa), and Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.).