The North American Meat Institute (Meat Institute) has released the following statement after the House Agriculture Committee favorably reported the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act:

“We are disappointed in the Committee’s vote to approve this bill despite opposition from the Meat Institute and the nation’s largest livestock producer organizations,” said Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the Meat Institute.

“USDA and the Department of Justice already have the authorities this bill would grant making this expansion of government bureaucracy with its required staff and offices duplicative and wasteful.

“Of particular concern is the creation of a special investigator empowered to enforce the new changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act regulations soon to be announced by the Biden Administration. These rules – like those previously proposed by USDA under then Secretary Tom Vilsack in 2010 – are likely to have far reaching, unintended adverse consequences. The special investigator (and staff) would feel emboldened and obligated to bring as many cases as possible, warranted or not, to test and expand the legal limits of the new rules. The resulting legal uncertainty and market chaos will accelerate unpredictable changes in livestock and poultry marketing that will add costs to both producers and consumers at a time of high inflation.

“The president’s budget request includes increased funding for the Packers and Stockyards program. If there is a problem that must be addressed, Congress should address it through the appropriations process within the context of the existing programmatic office, not by expanding the government with new, redundant offices and authorities.”

The Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act establishes an Office of the Special Investigator within USDA to investigate and prosecute Packers and Stockyards Act claims. The office also would have the authority to bring civil actions, a responsibility currently under the Department of Justice’s authority. The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

Additional background:

In June 2021, USDA announced plans to propose rules to “strengthen enforcement” of the Packers and Stockyards Act. The expected proposed regulations would be problematic for several reasons, including their impact on livestock producers’ options to market their cattle and hogs as they choose.

The concepts expressed in USDA’s announcement about the planned Packers and Stockyards rules are not new and were considered, and rejected, in the past. When proposed, they will conflict with legal precedent in no less than eight federal appellate circuits, and will hurt livestock producers, packers, and consumers.

The Administration’s fiscal year 2023 budget request specifically ties increased funding for the Packers and Stockyards program to the forthcoming proposed rules: “Increased funding is requested to fund new statutory requirements, to strengthen oversight of livestock and poultry markets and minimalize IT security vulnerabilities.” (p. 82)

Source: North American Meat Institute