Senate Judiciary Committee approves R-CALF USA’s request to investigate cattle price collapse

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Farm Forum

Billings, Mont. – In response to R-CALF USA’s January request, the Senate Judiciary Committee recently requested the Comptroller General of the United States to use his agency, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), to initiate an investigation into the 2015 cattle price collapse.

In a letter signed by the chairman and ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), respectively, along with the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights, Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), respectively, the GAO is asked to investigate the cause of the sudden 15.1 percent drop in fed cattle prices that occurred during the latter half of 2015.

“We are pleased the Judiciary Committee agrees that the evidence we provided regarding the dysfunctionality of our fed cattle market warrants a careful investigation into the current structure of our industry and our industry’s susceptibility to anticompetitive practices,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

The Judiciary Committee’s letter specifically requested the GAO to conduct “a review of the structure of the market and of any possible anticompetitive conduct.”

According to the agency’s Website, the GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency often called the ‘government watchdog’ because it investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. The Comptroller General of the United States, who heads the GAO, is appointed to a 15-year term by the President. Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2010.

“This is our last best chance to stop the chickenization of our cattle industry,” said Bullard, referring to the vertically integrated structure of the U.S. chicken industry that is under the complete control of large, corporate meatpackers.

“We don’t want our cattle industry to follow the chicken industry’s path and the only way to reverse our present trajectory towards it is to defend and protect competition in our cattle markets,” he added.

In 2010 the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Justice held joint hearings across the country during which both agencies indicated they would begin protecting competition in livestock markets by enforcing antitrust laws and the Packers and Stockyards Act, which prohibits anticompetitive conduct. However, no such actions have been initiated by either agency.