We sent a letter to the DOJ, now what?
On Tuesday, April 16th, 2020, the Nebraska Cattlemen Board of Directors approved a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) aggressively requesting they initiate an investigation into the beef cattle market response triggered by two specific events – the August 2019 fire at the beef processing plant in Holcomb, KS through the current market response to COVID-19.
To date, the number one question asked regarding this action is this:
So… you sent a letter to the DOJ – now what?
The answer – it’s complicated.
One piece of information we can confirm is that our letter has been received, reviewed, and forwarded to the appropriate legal staff within the DOJ Antirust Division for further review.
From there, the process becomes private. It’s the DOJ’s policy to conduct investigations on a non-public basis to preserve the integrity of its investigative process. In general, the Department of Justice does not publicly announce investigations or investigative findings. We may not know if and/or when they decide to start an investigation into the meatpacking industry.
Announcing an investigation could make it difficult to gather evidence or obtain witnesses. It could also result in the unfair identification of an individual, business, or organization as a person of interest to the federal government. Because they cannot disclose any information they may gather, nor can they confirm the existence or non-existence of an investigation, the confirmation of our request for investigation receipt MAY be the only response Nebraska Cattlemen receives – unless investigation information is made a matter of public record. If the DOJ does decide to grant NC’s request for an investigation into the meatpacking industry, and it’s made a matter of public record, information regarding the investigation will be made public on the DOJ website.
But what if they find something?
Exceptions to the DOJ policy, outside of cases being made a matter of public record, occur when the matter under investigation results in an indictment or some type of enforcement action. Additionally, the DOJ makes exceptions to its non-public policy when the issue under investigation is necessary to protect the public interest, safety, or welfare. Most commonly, the Division publicly announces investigations involving law enforcement agencies, prisons, and jails.
What about the pending USDA investigation?
We understand and acknowledge that there is a pending USDA investigation into the market reactions that took place after the August 2019 Holcomb, KS plant fire. We firmly believe that the Department of Justice should open its own investigation and expand the scope to include both the market aftermath of the Holcomb, KS fire that triggered a similar market response to the COVID-19 situation. We support the USDA investigation but feel bringing in the DOJ will increase the intensity and depth of the investigation. Both events continue the undue financial burden for all cattle producers within the production side of the beef cattle industry.
Can our Congressional Delegation Help?
The Nebraska Cattlemen policy team has made the Nebraska Congressional delegation aware of NC’s request to initiate an investigation into the beef packing industry. Nebraska Cattlemen and the Nebraska congressional delegation have taken a multifaceted approach towards addressing the seemingly flock of “Black Swan” events that have rocked the beef cattle markets in the past year. Nebraska Cattlemen will continue to support the efforts by our congressional delegation to address the current market situation. Most recently, Attorneys General from 11 states, including Nebraska, sent a letter also requesting the DOJ to investigate the meat packing industry.
We hear you.
We understand that times are tough, and the frustration felt by members regarding the current market situation is growing as days pass by without answers. We also understand the frustration behind the unknown of both the request for the DOJ to investigate the meatpacking industry and the lack of results from the current USDA investigation. Do know that the staff at Nebraska Cattlemen will keep looking for results and will share any and all information possible with the NC membership as soon as we have details we’re able to share. In the mean time, we’ll continue to push for doing what we can in aiding the beef cattle supply chain moving forward while remaining laser-focused on long term efforts to increase robust price discovery and improving risk mitigation tools available for cattlemen to better protect themselves in the future.
Written by: Ashley Kohls – Director of Government Affairs, Nebraska Cattlemen