Witness Intimidation at House Ag Hearing on Cattle Markets

Sabrina HalvorsonLegislative

The House Ag Committee held a hearing last week titled: “An Examination of Price Discrepancies, Transparency, and Alleged Unfair Practices in Cattle Markets.” Four cow/calf operators were scheduled to testify about how these practices affect their businesses, however, only three made it to the hearing. The fourth witness canceled out of fear. House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott explained during the hearing.

“Due to intimidations and threats to this person’s livelihood, to this person’s reputation, they chose not to participate. Out of fear,” he said. “Witness intimidation is unacceptable, and it is not conduct befitting this treasured institution, the Congress of the United States.”

During his opening statement, Chairman Scott discussed the need for the hearing.

“Since the 1980s we have seen a steady increase in concentration in the packing industry. This consolidation has coincided with a steady decrease in the number of ranchers over that same period,” he said, “In one analysis that I read, the authors noted that over half a million ranchers have gone out of business since the 80s, that averages out to about seventeen thousand cattle operations a year. This statistic is highly worrisome.”

Scott also talked about the connection to supply chain issues.

“Another issue with consolidated industry is that it can create less resilient supply chains. We saw this directly during the Holcomb fire in 2019 and then the COVID-19 pandemic. When a small number of companies control an entire link in the supply chain it makes us more susceptible to shocks and less resilient when black swan events occur. In that vein, consolidation doesn’t just hurt ranchers, it also hurts consumers, who face supply bottlenecks, higher prices, and limited choices,” he said.

After the first part of the hearing with the cattle producers, representatives from the four major meatpacking companies testified on their side of the issue. Those witnesses included David MacLennan, Chief Executive Officer, Cargill, Inc; Tim Schellpeper, Chief Executive Officer, JBS USA Holdings, Inc.; Tim Klein, Chief Executive Officer, National Beef Packing Company, LLC; Donnie King, Chief Executive Officer, Tyson Foods.

Scott said he expected there to be differences of opinion at the hearing and disagreement but cautioned that he expected the conversation to remain civil.

“One point I want to make up front is that I am coming into this hearing with an open mind—and I hope my colleagues are too,” he said. “Hearings provide us with opportunities to facilitate open discourse and get public answers to difficult questions.” 

Sabrina Halvorson
National Correspondent / AgNet Media, Inc.

Sabrina Halvorson is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, and public speaker who specializes in agriculture. She primarily reports on legislative issues and hosts The AgNet News Hour and The AgNet Weekly podcast. Sabrina is a native of California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley.