A bipartisan group of senators are asking the Justice Department to “expediently” investigate what they call “concerning circumstances” within a beef sector rocked by processing capacity issues and accusations of profiteering at the highest levels of the supply chain.

In a letter led by Nebraska Republican Deb Fischer, 19 senators — 16 Republicans and three Democrats — ask DOJ to “investigate suspected price manipulation and anticompetitive behavior in the highly concentrated cattle industry, in order to identify more clearly the factors contributing to a dire situation for producers.”

In their letter, the senators say decreases in live cattle prices — down 18% since February, they say, while wholesale beef prices have jumped 115% over the same period — “are pushing cattle producers and feeders to the brink, adding to the longstanding concerns stemming from the state of competition among beef packers.”

President Donald Trump has previously said he would ask DOJ to look into the state of the industry. The Department of Agriculture has also expanded an investigation that started by looking into pricing practices after an August fire at a Kansas packing plant to include the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Given the opaqueness of this concentrated industry, DOJ is in a distinct position to gather the facts and evidence necessary to determine the forms of collusion or other unfair and deceptive practices that might exist behind identical prices or certain buying and selling patterns among packers,” the letter notes.

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