Both the USDA and the Department of Justice are conducting investigations into pricing in the beef industry. Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer is a member of the Senate Ag Committee and an active cattle rancher. Beef’s price volatility picked up after the 2019 fire that damaged a processing plant in Holcomb, Kansas. She says it’s only gotten worse as COVID-19 picked up steam in 2020.
“We saw something I think we really hadn’t seen to this extent before with the pricing issue. It’s not a new issue but producers were very, very concerned over what they felt was a greater extent of, I guess you could say, manipulation by the packers on the prices that were being paid. When you have four big packers that control over 80 percent of the markets, there’s going to be some issues there.”
She says, given everything that’s happened over the past year, that beef producers have been “pushed too far.” Fischer wrote a letter to USDA back in April and asked them to expand their investigation beyond the Holcomb fire and into the potential unfair market practices happening during COVID-19.
Fischer and several of her colleagues wrote a second letter to the U.S. Justice Department about the same topic.
“I wrote a letter and had 18 of my colleagues sign-on, both Republicans and Democrats, where we asked the Department of Justice to open an investigation into any kind of suspected price manipulation behavior that is out there within the cattle industry as well. With the Department of Justice investigations, obviously, you don’t hear about those until they are ready to bring out their conclusions.”
She talks about the ideal outcome of these investigations for U.S. cattle producers.
“The ideal outcome is more transparency, to be able to know with a little more clarity how the market is working, and to make sure that it’s working in a way that’s fair, in a way that’s more open and transparent so people can market their cattle and make those decisions that affect their families and their businesses.”
Fischer says pricing has been a topic of conversation for a long time in the beef industry.
“I think that’s why it’s so important for the Department of Justice, the investigation that they’re doing, so they can gather information, that they can gather evidence. We need to know if there’s any kind of illegal activity that has been occurring or has not been occurring. We want to make sure that our federal anti-trust laws are adhered to. There are laws on the books that we want to make sure are followed.”