Since the department was already investigating the market, Perdue decided to tack on these latest COVID-19 concerns. He said that if any unfair practices are detected, the department "will take quick enforcement action," Reuters reported. U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska said on Twitter that the USDA's investigation was "a good decision to address potentially unfair practices."
The Department of Justice has gotten involved in price issues in the meat industry before. There is congressional support for this investigation, with several senators writing a letter urging the department to investigate allegations of price fixing in the cattle market.
These producers have faced similar accusations before. Last year, The Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America and other cattle ranchers filed a class action lawsuit accusing the companies of a conspiracy to minimize prices paid to ranchers for cattle in order to inflate their own margins and profits.
But it's not just cattle. The coronavirus outbreak has affected prices and supply in several categories across the food industry. Wholesale egg prices more than tripled last month as consumers cleaned out grocery store shelves.
Although it can be difficult to prove price-fixing claims, the DOJ already warned businesses that it will hold them accountable if they violate antitrust laws during the coronavirus outbreak, so these markets could face investigations in the near future.