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In the news: Special Investigator Act awaits Senate vote

Progressive Cattle Editor Carrie Veselka Published on 27 July 2022

The debate on cattle market transparency continues to take the spotlight on Capitol Hill, with legislation including the 2022 Cattle Price Transparency Act and the 2022 Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act taking center stage.

The House of Representatives recently passed the much-debated Lower Food and Fuel Costs Act, with a vote of 221 to 204. The bill, ostensibly aimed at reducing the price of food and fuel, includes a section authorizing the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act, which has also been approved by the Senate Ag Committee.

The bill would establish the Office of the Special Investigator for Competition Matters within the Department of Agriculture. The office would include a special investigator as the head of office and an estimated staff of 10 attorneys and other professionals with appropriate expertise. This office’s objective, as described by the Senate bill, is to investigate and prosecute violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act using all legal tools available (e.g., subpoenas). The office would also have the authority to bring any civil or administrative action authorized by that act against a packer. The special investigator office would also serve as a liaison to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission and consult with the Department of Homeland Security regarding critical infrastructure in the food and agricultural sector. An analysis from the Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of establishing and maintaining this office at $2 million per year.

Industry groups are divided in their opinions of the bill.

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association President Brooke Miller issued the following statement after the House Ag Committee approved the bill: “For far too long, the U.S. cattle marketplace has lacked a referee on the playing field. The role of the federal government is to blow the whistle on any illegal, anti-competitive or deceptive market activity. This bill would give several federal agencies the authority to act cooperatively to pursue multinational corporations who fail to live up to our American values.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) claims the legislation is repetitive and only creates additional bureaucracy for investigating anti-competitive behavior. “Rather than focusing on adequate staffing and funding for the woefully underresourced Packers and Stockyards Division at [the] USDA, this hasty proposal was rushed through the legislative process without consideration of the confusing bureaucratic mess it would create. Arming [the] USDA with unchecked subpoena and prosecutorial power while significantly undercutting the Department of Justice’s role in the process is poor practice,” said NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane.

The final hurdle before the legislation is sent to the president is a full Senate vote.  end mark

Carrie Veselka
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