Oklahoma Cong. Frank Lucas Says Meat Processors Are Feeling The Heat From a Number of DirectionsTue, 09 Jun 2020 15:21:00 CDT
Meat processors are feeling a lot of pressure to change their mode of operation after the pandemic caused a near collapse in the meat supply chain. The pressure is coming from several angles, most notably from Congress and the Department of Justice.
Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Farm Director Ron Hays talked with U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) this week about some of the things in the pipeline that could force change.
“My constituents have been concerned about the four packers controlling 80 percent of the packing industry for a long time,” Lucas said.
Speaking from his ranch in Roger Mills County, Lucas said there are several concurrent investigations going on from separate branches of government.
The Department of Justice is demanding, not asking, demanding information from the four major packers for protentional antitrust violations, Lucas said.
He noted this is not the same USDA investigation started after the plant fire in Kansas last year.
At the same time the DOJ has filed charges against executives in the chicken processing industry.
All of this comes on top of the ongoing investigation that Lucas and others asked the USDA for following the Kansas plant fire and the pandemic issues.
“I think we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” Lucas said.
If there are legal issues here that have to be addressed to make the market work more smoothly than we have to act, Lucas said.
The Oklahoma Congressman stressed the DOJ is not just looking at the Packers and Stockyards Act but also the antitrust laws.
This is on a whole different level than the Packers and Stockyards Act, Lucas said, as this is all the DOJ antitrust experts focus on and what they have done for centuries.
Lucas said Congress has the right to change the number of entities controlling the packing industry.
He said some will argue high efficiencies is best for consumers, but the pandemic has demonstrated that extraordinary circumstances can suddenly make the whole system go crazy. Then, maybe we do need intermediate smaller plants.
Lucas said after we address how much of the U.S. meat processing industry a foreign entity can own, (Lucas has already filed a bill to address this issue) maybe we need to look at exactly how many entities we actually need to have.
He noted President Teddy Roosevelt said more than a century ago when 4 packers control 50 percent that was too much concentration and he broke them up.
On a related issue, Lucas sent a letter to USDA Sec. Perdue regarding the April 15 cutoff date in the CFAP payments to ag producers.
In my area I have a number of producers who had stocker cattle on wheat pasture past the April 15 date and took an absolute pounding at the sale, Lucas said.
“I stand by those folks who sold cattle after April 15.”
The Oklahoma rancher and federal lawmaker also said the big challenge the rest of this year will be finding time for the U.S. House of Representatives to come back into session. The pandemic made Speaker Pelosi basically send everyone home.
The age of all the Democrat’s senior leadership that Lucas works with are in their 70’s and 80’s and susceptible to the virus, he said, making them cautious about Covid-19.
I understand that but at what point do we come back into session, Lucas said. There are not that many days left in the session.
It’s really challenging when you can’t have the members in the same room, looking at them in the eye. Not impossible but a lot tougher, Lucas said.
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