Meat Packing Special Investigator Act Introduced
The Meat Packing Special Investigator Act was recently announced by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Mike Rounds (R-SD) to address anti-competitive practices in the meat and poultry industries that threaten the nation's food supply and national security. The Act comes after the recent ransomware attacks on one of the country’s largest meat suppliers. For more information on the attack, check out the Taking Stock DC article Ransomware Attack Forces Shut Down of Major Meat Plant.
"For years, unfair, anti-competitive practices in the meatpacking 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 cyber-attack 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 anti-competitive practices in the industry that threaten Montana ranchers and consumers."
The bill would create the "Office of the Special Investigator for Competition Matters" within the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Packers and Stockyards Division and will include the special investor, along with a team of fellow investigators with subpoena power, dedicated to preventing and addressing anti-competitive practices in the meat and poultry industries and enforcing our nation's antitrust laws. The new office will act as a liaison between the USDA, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and the Federal Trade Commission to protect the continuation of the food supply and increase our national security.
The bill has even gained support from USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, stating that "it's a good proposal, I think it's part of what needs to be done." The Act gives the USDA power in terms of meat and poultry it has not previously had. Jess Peterson from the United States Cattlemen’s Association stated, “This beefs up the system. It gives the Department of Ag the ‘S’ word – a subpoena. More than that, it truly modernizes it.”
The senators state that the act will also reduce the prices of meat for consumers due to new competition. “Congress knew in 1921 what we know today – anti-competitive behavior in the meatpacking industry hurts both consumers and producers,” Rounds stated. “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 anti-competitive behavior to apply the Packers and Stockyards Act as intended.”