Republican lawmakers ask Agriculture Department to ease regs on meat production

FILE PHOTO - Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) participates in a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Republican members of Congress in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Six Republicans in the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee urged the U.S. Agriculture Department on Tuesday to ease regulations on meat processors that they said make it harder for smaller companies to compete.

The price paid to ranchers for cattle dropped and meat prices rose earlier this spring when operations at some slaughterhouses were slowed by workers falling ill with the new coronavirus, while others closed. President Donald Trump responded in May by insisting that the Justice Department open an antitrust probe.

The six lawmakers, led by the top Republican on the committee, Jim Jordan, urged Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to “revisit burdensome regulations that create barriers to entry and lessen competition in the nation’s meat processing industry.”

The lawmakers requested that Perdue consider giving smaller processors “more flexibility” in handling Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point Plans to address food safety issues and to clarify and streamline the approval process for meat labels.

They also asked Perdue to reduce the regulatory burden keeping smaller meat processors from participating in a program that allows them to sell across state lines and to find a way to reduce the expense of inspections, which falls on meat processors if an inspector works overtime.

Farmers have increasingly turned to small processors to slaughter their livestock as the pandemic hobbled big slaughterhouses run by companies like Tyson Foods Inc TSN.N and JBS USA. Around 80% of U.S. beef is produced by four large companies. In addition to Jordan, the letter was signed by Republican Representatives James Sensenbrenner, Ken Buck, Matt Gaetz, Kelly Armstrong and W. Gregory Steube.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Additional reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Dan Grebler