Cattle producers shared personal stories of anticompetitive practices and the Department of Justice listened.
“Eyes were wide open and notepads came out,” explained a South Dakota cattle producer. “The Assistant Attorney General stayed way longer than scheduled and the staff continued to ask questions.”
“They were totally shocked,” added Oren Lesmeister, a Parade rancher and District 28A Representative. “They had no idea the market manipulation was this bad.”
Most producers’ names have been left out of this article to protect them from retaliation. The cattle producers quoted above were among a group of cattle producers from South Dakota who joined with producers from across the US to meet with the Justice Department’s (DOJ) Antitrust Division Sept. 12 during the 2022 National Farmers Union D.C. Fly-In.
Cattle producers shared firsthand stories of open collusion: A single buyer at an auction market, purchasing cattle for multiple packing houses and cattle buyers riding in the same vehicle to sales, comparing notes and taking turns bidding on cattle.
“They were genuinely interested in what we had to say,” said a South Dakota cattle producer. “The aides said they knew the problem exists, but they needed real-world examples. I am encouraged.”
“Encouraged,” is a sentiment shared by all the South Dakota producers who attended the meeting, said Doug Sombke, a Conde farmer and President of South Dakota Farmers Union. “For decades, we have been advocating for the DOJ to hold the big four accountable by enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act. I am encouraged that after this meeting, it may actually happen.”
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