In May, the House Agriculture Committee approved H.R. 7606, the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act of 2022. The bill would increase enforcement of competition laws and boost resources to investigate abusive market practices by creating a new office and position in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The new position would be created to oversee agricultural markets with authority to investigate, subpoena and prosecute meat packers and live poultry dealers accused of wrongdoing. The committee hearing showed some division, but the bill ultimately passed with a 27-21 vote.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) condemned the unfunded bill, calling it “duplicative.”
“Cattle producers strongly support effective oversight of the meatpacking sector, but the special investigator bill does nothing to accomplish that goal. Rather than focusing on adequate staffing and funding for the woefully under-resourced Packers and Stockyards Division at USDA, this hasty proposal was rushed through the legislative process without consideration of the confusing bureaucratic mess it would create. Arming USDA with unchecked subpoena and prosecutorial power while significantly undercutting the Department of Justice’s role in the process is poor practice,” said Ethan Lane, NCBA vice president of government affairs.
The special investigator bill would create a new position in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with immense prosecutorial and subpoena power. To comply with this legislation, USDA would be forced to divert resources from other mission-critical areas of the Agricultural Marketing Service, stealing resources from the essential programs cattle producers rely on every day.
“The vote on this bill comes at a time when producers are facing record inflation, soaring input costs, labor shortages, and ongoing supply chain vulnerabilities. Congress should be working to address these pressing issues that are cutting into producers’ profitability,” Lane said.
The National Farmers Union is supportive of the measure.
“Passage of this bill is a priority for National Farmers Union (NFU) and our ‘Fairness for Farmers’ campaign,” said Rob Larew, NFU president. “Laws intended to protect markets from monopolies and anti-competitive practices in agriculture are not being adequately enforced. Greater enforcement of competition laws by USDA will better ensure America’s independent family farmers and ranchers have a chance to succeed in today’s marketplace, now dominated by monopolies. While there are many more measures needed to ensure a fair marketplace, the action during this week’s House Agriculture Committee markup is a big step forward.”
NFU’s “Fairness for Farmers” campaign has brought the impact of monopolies on family agriculture into the national spotlight. Campaign priorities include addressing issues such as increased enforcement of competition laws that can combat excessive costs for fertilizer, supply chain vulnerabilities, and increased farm equipment costs.