House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and ranking member Michael Conaway, R-Texas, are asking USDA to analyze the beef packing sector and trends in cattle markets related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Labor disruptions in the meatpacking industry have resulted in fluctuating cattle and beef prices,” the letter, addressed to Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, states. “At the same time that some industry segments have experienced meat shortages, others have experienced high prices at the consumer level and demand disruptions at the restaurant level. Meanwhile, prices received by ranchers have declined.”

The beef market has drawn increased scrutiny in recent months, as the four-month shutdown of a Tyson packing plant in Kansas due to a fire and the spread of COVID-19 across the U.S. caused a noticeable disparity between increased beef prices and the amounts that producers were being paid for live cattle. A USDA report released July 22 found a number of reasons for the market disturbances, but didn't address if there was any wrongdoing by the industry’s four major beef packers.

The letter asks USDA's policy research centers to provide an “in-depth description” of the beef packing sector’s structure, current capacity, impediments to expansion, policy options to expand capacity and price discovery, and common success factors for smaller packing plants. It also requests that the centers provide quarterly briefings on their findings for the House Agriculture Committee.

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