USDA Wants to Audit Four Largest U.S. Beef Packers

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Agriculture Department is seeking $1 million from Congress so it can audit the four largest U.S. beef packers to ensure they are submitting uniform financial information, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said on Thursday.

The four leading packers account for 80 percent of beef slaughter in the nation, according to Reuters. They are Tyson Foods Inc. Inc, Cargill Inc., Swift & Co., and Farmland Industries.

Packers are required to file annual financial reports with USDA, but the reports never have been audited. Veneman briefly mentioned the request during testimony before the House Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture.

Results probably would not be available until 2006, deputy GIPSA administrator JoAnn Waterfield told reporters later. GIPSA would follow with audits of the largest pork packers and then look at smaller packers and sheep slaughterhouses.

In budget documents, USDA said the initial audits "are anticipated to result in substantially better financial protection to the regulated industries through heightened financial scrutiny of the Top Four."

Waterfield said a GIPSA study released last year of "captive supply" of cattle -- animals owned or controlled by packers -- found some discrepancies in reporting among packers. The audits would show if packers are providing comparable data in a uniform manner in their financial reports, she said.

Packers with more than $500,000 a year in purchases of livestock are required to file the reports with GIPSA. They involve items commonly found on a company's operating reports, such as net profits, margins, liabilities, assets and balances.

"Meatpacking is a dynamic industry. We need to find out what's going on with packers, how they keep their records," Waterfield said.
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