Officials, trade groups focus on beef packer investigation

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association said Friday in Pawhuska that ranchers need a U.S. Department of Justice investigation of beef packing companies to move ahead to a conclusion.

Michael Kelsey commented on the investigation in his remarks to members of the Osage County Cattlemen's Association, during their annual convention. He mentioned numerous areas of public policy about which Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association task forces are working to formulate positions -- from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the McGirt case, to the growth of the medical marijuana industry in the state.

With regard to beef packers, Kelsey additionally noted that the companies are currently in an advantageous position.

“Packers have tremendous leverage over the live cattle market right now," Kelsey said, explaining that ranchers need to figure out how to make sure they don't end up in this situation again in 10 to 15 years.

In late May, Gov. Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma Agriculture Secretary Blayne Arthur sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland about moving ahead with the beef packer probe.

On June 8, several members of Oklahoma's U.S. House of Representatives joined more than 40 other members of Congress in sending a letter to Garland on the issue of the DOJ investigation.

The American Farmers & Ranchers Cooperative on June 11 commented on the active role that Oklahoma's federal House delegation was taking on the beef packing issue.

“We are very pleased four members of our state’s congressional delegation are standing in solidarity with Oklahoma’s ranchers in recognizing the potential for antitrust behavior in the beef industry and calling upon the U.S. Attorney General to continue to take action,” said American Farmers & Ranchers (AFR) Cooperative President Scott Blubaugh. “Rep. (Frank) Lucas showed a willingness to lead on this issue during the pandemic and we are pleased to see he is continuing to push for answers, along with other members of the Oklahoma delegation asking for DOJ investigation results.”

The U.S. Department of Justice reportedly sent investigative demands, which are considered similar to subpoenas, to several major beef packers just over a year ago. What cattle producers are clamoring for now is answers.

The AFR Cooperative announced online on June 17 that a hearing had been set for June 23 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, entitled "Examining Markets, Transparency, and Prices from Cattle Producer to Consumer."

Kelsey said June 18 that another feature of the current cattle market situation is that the cattle industry in the west is shrinking as a result of prolonged drought. Kelsey encouraged Osage County ranchers to attend the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association convention in July, with a view toward learning more about issues of interest.