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House Republicans oppose USDA meat investigator as poison pill

The House will vote as early as Tuesday on legislation to create a USDA special investigator to enforce fair-play laws in the meat industry despite last-ditch Republican efforts to quash the proposal. The White House announced its support on Monday for the package, which would also allow summertime sale of E15 and help farmers adopt so-called precision agriculture technology for more efficient use of seed, fertilizer, and pesticides.

If approved, the special investigator’s office would be the biggest livestock marketing reform to advance in Congress this year.

The special investigator would help farmers and ranchers get a fair price for their animals from the half-dozen companies that dominate meat processing, said House Agriculture Committee chairman David Scott. “They are running our family farmers, at 17,000 a year, out of business,” Scott told the House Rules Committee, the gatekeeper for sending legislation to the House floor.

Rep. Glenn Thompson, the senior Republican on the Agriculture Committee, said the special investigator was a polarizing idea that was opposed by the meat industry and large cattle, hog and turkey groups. Rep. Tom Cole, the top Republican on the Rules Committee, said the special investigator was “a partisan poison pill.”

“The vote count in the end is not going to be a strong mandate for going to the Senate,” said Thompson, suggesting many Republicans would vote against the package unless the special investigator was removed from the package.

“If this is where my Republican friends draw the line, so be it,” responded Rules chairman Jim McGovern, a fan of the investigator proposal. On a 9-4 party-line vote, Rules Committee members rejected Cole’s proposal to allow a floor vote on deleting the special-investigator language.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer listed the special investigator bill as one of three bills that could be called for a vote on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

Most of the elements of the package, HR 7606, were approved by the Agriculture Committee by voice vote last month. The special investigator was approved on a 27-21 roll call with Rep. Dusty Johnson as the only Republican in support. Representatives Abigail Spanberger, Virginia Democrat, and Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Iowa Republican, were the lead sponsors.

Thompson said the special investigator was part of “President Biden’s dishonest blame game” of holding large corporations to blame for inflation. Foes say the special investigator’s office, reporting to the agriculture secretary, would be a politicized office that duplicated the work of USDA’s Packers and Stockyards Administration and the Justice Department.

The second-largest U.S. farm group, the National Farmers Union, and the activist U.S. Cattlemen’s Association support the special investigator provision, said Scott.

To watch a video of the Rules Committee hearing or to read the text of HR 7606, click here.

The White House statement in support of HR 7606 was available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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