Doug Jones calls for investigation into cattle market price-fixing as cattle prices fall, meat prices spike

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Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones on Friday sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr demanding a coordinated investigation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture into reports of price-fixing in the cattle market in the wake of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

The letter was sent amid a growing demand for beef nationwide — American consumers bought 77 percent more meat in the month of March. Meanwhile cattle farmers are barely breaking even in selling their cattle. Leaving Jones to question the difference in price between what beef producers are receiving, and the retail price consumers are paying. An investigation would help determine if meat packers are price-fixing during this time of crisis.

“The profit discrepancies between packers and independent ranchers is egregious, and merits a long-overdue antitrust investigation into the consolidated meat packing industry,” wrote Senator Jones and his colleagues. “The Federal government must act on this issue soon or America’s cow calf operators, as well as small and medium size feeders will go out of business while multi-national corporations continue to reap record profits.” 

The letter continues, “Evidence of price fixing is now even clearer as the nation reacts to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Yet again, as the demand for beef increases nationwide, live cattle futures are sinking. We are hearing from ranchers that it is not feasible to sell their cattle at such low futures and still hope to break even.  In a time when Americans are consuming more beef than ever before, it is confounding that ranchers are struggling, while meat packers take home record profits…The nation’s food supply chain is an issue of national security.”

Jones was joined by Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in sending the letter.

The letter follows cattle associations in 23 states, including Alabama, sending a letter urging AG Barr and the DOJ to launch an investigation into possible anti-competitive actions in the meat industry.