The Government Accountability Office says USDA offices need to be able to share data with each other to better monitor the beef cattle market, but the Department doesn’t necessarily agree. That’s the message from a GAO report on data analysis and the monitoring of the U.S. cattle market, released on Tuesday. GAO noted that USDA’s Packers & Stockyards program (P&SP) does not currently have “routine access to daily data for transactions between feedlot operators, which produce feed cattle, and meatpackers. Those data are collected by the Agricultural Marketing Service's price reporting group, which does not routinely share them with P&SP because officials said it is prohibited by statute from doing so.” GAO noted that legislation passed in 1999 says the Secretary of Agriculture may authorize sharing these data for enforcement purposes, but not market monitoring. “Determining whether it is advisable to request additional exceptions from information disclosure restrictions from Congress would help USDA strengthen its oversight,” GAO noted, recommending USDA review whether such data can be shared and if it would be worthwhile to ask Congress to amend the statute in question, if that proved not to be the case. USDA, GAO said, “determined that the act does not allow for such sharing and it would not be advisable citing concerns about the public’s trust in the program.”
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