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House Panel Investigating Beef Industry’s ‘Big Three’ Firms

October 16, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A House subcommittee is investigating whether the domination of cattle slaughtering by three corporations is hurting farmers and consumers.

The House Government Operations subcommittee on information, justice and agriculture is gathering testimony on all aspects of the beef business from the Agriculture and Justice departments, economists, farmers, meat industry representatives and members of Congress.

″There is a huge dispute over whether the so-called ‘Big Three’ is a market-driven concept or whether the ‘Big Three’ is driving the market to its own advantage,″ said Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., the subcommittee chairman.

ConAgra Inc., IBP Inc. and Excel Corp., have dominated the beef industry since the early 1980s. About 24 percent of the business from the raising of cattle to the delivery of carcasses to butcher shops is owned by the three companies, a subcommittee aide said.

″The subcommittee intends to look at the regulatory and legislative aspects of meatpacking concentration from both an antitrust and agricultural point of view,″ said Wise.

He said the panel would also investigate allegations that lack of competition in the industry is leading to lower wages and higher injury rates for employees in the plants.


WASHINGTON (AP) - Legislation requiring federal inspection of seafood is expected to be debated on the floor of the House this week.

However, three bills, with inspection responsibilities assigned to different agencies, have been voted out of three committees.

The House Rules Committee was to decide today which bill would be the main vehicle for debate. The other two were expected to be offered as amendments. Floor action would be later in the week.

Congress has been in general agreement that seafood inspection must be strengthened, but House members have not been able to agree which agency should do it. One bill would give the job to the Agriculture Department, the second would assign it to the Food and Drug Administration and the third would split the responsibility between the FDA and the Commerce Department.

Last month, the Senate unanimously approved legislation that places inspection responsibilities with USDA.

″If the House of Representatives lets the enactment of a mandatory, federal seafood inspection fail due to its own paralysis, then the list of those real victims who have suffered and died from eating contaminated, uninspected seafood will grow longer,″ said Ellen Haas, executive director of Public Voice for Food and Heath Policy.

Haas, who has been working for years to get Congress to act on this issue, praised the Senate bill as ″a strong bill with many important public health protections.″

Currently, seafood is inspected on mostly a voluntary basis. Some states have their own programs and a limited service is offered by the FDA.

″Contaminated fish poses a real health threat to consumers,″ said Haas. ″Finfish feed on bacteria-laden algae and shellfish filter-feed water contaminated with sewage, increasing the risk of illness to consumers.″


WASHINGTON (AP) - Phil Sokolof, president of the National Heart Savers Association, is pressuring the Senate through full-page newspaper advertisements to take a floor vote on a nutrition-labeling bill before Congress adjourns for the year.

With adjournment, any legislation that has not been acted upon will die.

Sokolof, a multimillionaire businessman from Omaha, Neb., said Monday he spent $350,000 of his own money for ads calling for action.

″Americans desperately need this bill enacted into law so they can make the informed choices necessary to lead healthier lives,″ said Sokolof’s ad in The Washington Post.

The House already approved a bill that would set specific standards for labeling a food ″lite″ or ″low-fat.″ It also outlines the nutritional information that must be on packaged food with requirements on how it must be displayed.

Sokolof also has used full-page newspaper ads to attack practices leading to high cholesterol content in foods: use of tropical oils by food processors and beef fat for frying by certain chain restaurants.

Two years ago, tropical oils, such as cocoanut and palm oil, were used widely in processed food, but today manufacturers are making known that their products are free of the substance. Restaurant companies attacked by Sokolof are now advertising they fry their potatoes in vegetable oil.

Whether the ads will pay off this time remains to be seen. Late Monday, it hadn’t been placed on the Senate agenda.

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