U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) have announced new, bipartisan legislation to address anticompetitive practices in the meat and poultry industries that threaten the nation’s food supply and national security following the ransomware attack on JBS, the country’s largest meat supplier.
Tester unveiled the bill at the Public Auction Yards (PAYs) in Billings on Friday, alongside Montana stakeholders including Joe Goggins of the Livestock Marketing Association, Jess Peterson of the United States Cattlemen’s Association, Walt Schweitzer of the Montana Farmers Union, and Fred Wacker of the Montana Stockgrowers Association.
“For years, unfair, anticompetitive practices in the meat packing industry have hit Montana ranchers where it hurts the most—in the wallet—and put our rural communities and family agriculture way of life, at risk.” Tester said. “On top of that, corporate consolidation is a direct threat to our national security, because a single cyberattack that threatens the very food we eat is proof that something must be done, and fast. That’s why this bill is so important—it devotes the needed tools to USDA to shore up our national security and address anticompetitive practices in the industry that threaten Montana ranchers and consumers.”
“Increased consolidation is driving concerns about competitive market access for Iowa livestock producers,” Grassley said. “The recent cyberattack added to existing vulnerabilities in our food supply chain, underscoring the importance of protecting the livelihoods of our family farmers. Food security is national security. This bill provides USDA with the necessary tools to beef up enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, increase coordination with DOJ, FTC, and DHS and to foster a fair and functional marketplace for farmers and consumers alike.”
“Congress knew in 1921 what we know today – anticompetitive behavior in the meat packing industry hurts both consumers and producers,” said Rounds. “Unfortunately, packer concentration in the beef industry is more consolidated today than it was when the Packers and Stockyards Act was first signed into law 100 years ago. South Dakota cattle producers are going broke, while consumers are paying an over-inflated premium for beef at the grocery store. It’s long past time to address this problem. Our legislation strengthens USDA’s ability to investigate harmful anticompetitive behavior to apply the Packers and Stockyards Act as intended.”
The Senators’ bill, the Meat Packing Special Investigator Act, would create the “Office of the Special Investigator for Competition Matters” within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Packers and Stockyards Division.
The new USDA special investigator will have a team of investigators, with subpoena power, dedicated to preventing and addressing anticompetitive practices in the meat and poultry industries and enforcing our nation’s antitrust laws. They will coordinate and act in consultation with the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission and create a new bridge between the USDA and the Department of Homeland Security to protect the continuation of the food supply and increase our national security. With a team of dedicated staff, the USDA will now have the ability to investigate the tough issues facing producers and hold bad actors accountable.
Joe Goggins, owner of Public Auction Yards, commented of the bill, “This will give us as an industry a referee in the game. I think we all agree in this industry, number one, we need a referee. Number two, we need to figure out a way to get these packers to give those of us that take all the risk, that own these cattle all year round, a little bigger piece of the pie.”
U.S. Cattlemen’s Association Director Emeritus Leo McDonnell issued the following statement:
“This bill comes at a critical time for the U.S. cattle industry. To ensure a level playing field for U.S. cattle producers, we need a referee that can call foul on anticompetitive market practices. This bill directs coordination between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It grants subpoena power to aid in the investigation and prosecution of violators of the Packers & Stockyards Act, and bolsters the legal power of the USDA by maintaining a staff of attorneys and other professionals with relevant expertise that can elevate cases of corruption. USCA has long advocated for the creation of this special investigator position, and we applaud Senators Tester, Grassley, and Rounds for advancing this legislation.”
Tester, Grassley and Rounds also recently joined a bipartisan group of colleagues in demanding the Department of Justice investigate whether the control large meatpackers have over the beef processing market violates U.S. antitrust laws and principles of fair competition.