WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House Agriculture Committee today voted to pass two legislative efforts led by U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger to address rising food prices — including her bill to tackle anticompetitive practices in the American meat and poultry industry.
In the face of consolidation among meat processors and rising food prices in Virginia and across the country, Spanberger’s Meat Packing Special Investigator Act would establish a new “Office of the Special Investigator for Competition Matters” within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Packers and Stockyards Division. This new USDA Special Investigator would focus on preventing shortages, enforcing America’s anti-trust laws, and holding bad actors in the meat and poultry industry accountable.
In addition to passing her Meat Packing Special Investigator Act, the U.S. House Agriculture Committee also voted to advance Spanberger’s bipartisan Butcher Block Act. This legislation — introduced alongside U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD-AL) — would help rebalance the U.S. cattle market by easing regulatory barriers and improving access to meat processing grants for small processors.
Ahead of the Committee’s votes, Spanberger spoke in favor of Meat Packing Special Investigator Act and urged her colleagues to move it forward. Click here to watch her full comments.
“Colleagues from both parties, from all regions of the country, have consistently expressed skepticism of current enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act,” said Spanberger ahead of the vote. “We have also discussed frustration with the speed and capacity of the current investigation at the Department of Justice into the big four meat packers. We are coming up on the two-year anniversary of DOJ launching an investigation, but we have not gotten any substantive updates or answers. Meanwhile, America is losing a staggering 40 family cattle farms a day. We cannot continue to accept the status quo, and America’s consumers cannot continue to accept higher prices and less-secure food supply chains due to concentration.”
“I am grateful for the work of Representative Spanberger on her pieces of legislation that will help ensure that our ag economy will be more resilient, and markets will be robust and competitive over the long term,” said U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott (D-GA-13).
Spanberger’s Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act is endorsed by the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association and the National Farmers Union.
“Virginia Cattlemen’s Association policy supports efforts to ensure a free, private enterprise driven and competitive marketing system for cattle. We thank Congresswoman Spanberger for her efforts to bring needed transparency, common sense, and accountability to our industry through the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act,” said Brandon Reeves, Executive Director, Virginia Cattlemen’s Association.
“Proper oversight and the efficient enforcement of existing law is critical for the future viability of our industry,” said Jay Calhoun, Virginia cattle producer. “We have been waiting years for the Department of Justice to conclude their investigation into the meat packing industry. Over that time, cattle producers have continued to see their share of the retail value of beef decline at an alarming rate. Having a dedicated unit to investigate Packers & Stockyards violations will help our industry provide the enforcement and protections cattle producers deserve. I would like thank Congresswoman Spanberger for her efforts to bring needed transparency and efficient accountability to our industry through the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act. ”
Spanberger’s Meat Packing Special Investigator Act is co-led by Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA-02). Their legislation is the companion bill to legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Mike Rounds (R-SD) in the U.S. Senate.
The Spanberger-led bills passed in the U.S. House Agriculture Committee today address specific challenges across American agriculture — including rising food costs, consolidation in the U.S. cattle industry, and a lack of resources for new processors.
Under Spanberger’s Meat Packing Special Investigator Act the new USDA Special Investigator would have access to a team of investigators — with subpoena and litigation power — focused on enforcing the nation’s antitrust laws. Specifically, this investigator would coordinate and act in consultation with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, as well as build a channel of communication between USDA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to protect the security of the nation’s food supply and address potential threats. Spanberger and Miller-Meeks first introduced their legislation in June 2021.
Spanberger’s bipartisan Butcher Block Act would establish a loan program at USDA Rural Development for new and expanding meat processors, as well as finance producer investment to drive competition within the meat packing industry. Additionally, it would allocate grants to entities to increase hiring and processing capacity. According to a 2021 Rabobank report, an additional daily packing capacity of 5,000 to 6,000 head of fed cattle could restore the historical balance of fed cattle supplies and packing capacity. The bill was introduced in June 2021.
Spanberger is the only Virginian on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, where she serves as Chair of the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee.