Cattle auction

Members of Congress are asking the attorney general to provide an update on the investigation of major meatpacking companies.

On Monday, 16 members of Congress prodded Attorney General Merrick Garland to update them on the investigation into the four meatpackers that dominate the U.S. market.

Sen. John Thune and Rep. Dusty Johnson, both R-S.D., led 14 of their colleagues in urging Garland to continue the U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the meatpackers.

The letter also requested that DOJ update Congress on on the probe, according to a press release from Johnson.

Nearly a year ago, DOJ sent civil investigation demands to the meatpackers, but no results have been made public.

In fact, the lawmakers said in the letter, there is no information to even suggest whether the investigation has concluded.

“It is critically important that producers have fair and transparent markets for the commodities they produce. We urge the DOJ Antitrust Division to continue vigilance and where possible provide updates of findings,” the lawmakers said.

They cited the market disruption from a 2019 fire at a beef processing plant in Kansas and pandemic-disrupted markets and plant closures. Huge spreads between fed cattle prices and the price of boxed beef sprang from those events.

“With a tight supply chain, any change in processing capacity can have a dramatic impact on cattle prices, preventing producers from capturing margin from boxed beef rallies,” the lawmakers said.

In May of 2020, former President Donald Trump asked DOJ to investigate the large price disparities.

“While black swan events do not always prove wrongdoing, additional attention can reinforce confidence in the system,” the lawmakers said.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association hopes the lawmakers’ request will be met at DOJ with the urgency it warrants.

Despite strong consumer demand and the economy reopening across much of the country, cattle producers face significant business challenges, said Ethan Lane, NCBA vice president of government affairs.

They are contending with high market volatility, drought and high input costs, and they can't capture the value they deserve for the high-quality product they supply, he said.

There’s a large supply of cattle at one end and a high demand for U.S. beef at the other, but the middle is being choked by the lack of processing capacity, he said.

“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,” he said.

“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,” he said.

NCBA hopes to see results from the attorney general soon, he said.

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