cattle, Frank Lucas
Cattle stand in the Mid America Stockyards in Bristow, Oklahoma. (Gaylord News / Brooklyn Wayland)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK3), along with two other House members, have called on the U.S. Department of Justice to release a final investigative report on disparities in the cattle industry.

In May 2020, the DOJ launched an investigation into four of the nation’s largest meatpackers, citing suspicions the companies were engaging in market-manipulating behavior that allegedly contributed to the major gap between cattle prices and box beef prices. Lucas said no final report or updates have been offered by the DOJ. 

Gaylord NewsThis story was reported by Gaylord News, a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University professor and OSU Extension livestock marketing specialist, said cattle producers have had concerns about the industry for several years.  However, he does not believe it is a major concern for consumers and small farmers.

“I don’t think this is an issue of large versus small, although small producers would probably disagree, and they certainly feel like the industry focus on large-scale production is a disadvantage for them, but it’s really not the case in this particular instance,” Peel said. “The only change we’ve had [in the market] is we’ve had a lot more shocks.” 

Lucas and U.S. Reps. Michael Guest (R-MS3) and Darren Soto (D-FL9) sent a letter in May to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland calling for the final report.

“We understand that a thorough investigation can take many months, but it concerns us that farmers, ranchers and the packers themselves have all been left with little direction since the civil investigative demands were issued,” the letter read.

The letter said the price for live cattle in the United States has decreased in the last several years, “forcing many small operators to make difficult decisions as they strive to stay in business and keep their farms operational.”

Boxed beef prices have risen significantly within the past year and widened the gap between live cattle prices and boxed beef prices, which is a concern for ranchers and consumers alike. Under investigation are Tyson, JBS SA, Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. and National Beef/Marfrig. None are based in Oklahoma, but the four companies control more than 80% of the nation’s beef processing. 

“These challenges reinforce the need to ensure that our nation’s farmers, ranchers and producers operate in transparent markets, which in turn helps feed American families,” the letter to the attorney general continued. “We ask that the DOJ continue its attentiveness to this matter and provide updates of findings to ensure confidence in our commodity markets.”

In July 2020, Lucas said the DOJ investigation could shed more light on the market’s volatility.

Last year, Lucas said the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report on the price difference between boxed beef and fed cattle that occurred after the Tyson plant fire in August 2019 and during the COVID-19 shutdowns.

“Their report consists of an analysis of market performance under the strain caused by those two events and policy recommendations to improve the overall marketplace,” Lucas said last summer. “While this report is helpful in looking for solutions and reforms currently, I continue to look forward to the conclusion of both USDA’s and the Department of Justice’s investigations into any ongoing or isolated violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act or anti-trust law.”

Lucas also introduced the RAMP-UP Act, which sought to establish a program to aid smaller meat processors in making improvements to meet federal standards. Such a program was established this year through the $2.3 trillion spending bill, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.