Investigation of meat packing companies much needed, says MFU
May 6, 2020
Despite high consumer demand for meat during the COVID-19 pandemic, farmers and ranchers are receiving lower prices for their products than before. Meanwhile, only four companies control 85% of beef processing in the United States.
Now, attorneys general of 11 states, including Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, are calling for a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into possible price fixing by these big multinational meat companies – Tyson, JBS, Cargill and National Beef.
“Given the concentrated market structure of the beef industry, it may be particularly susceptible to market manipulation, particularly during times of food insecurity such as the COVID-19 crisis,” the attorneys general wrote to U.S. Attorney General William Barr. “[W]e would suggest that regulatory strategies should be explored to promote competition, address market manipulation and protect consumers.”
The grassroots organization Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) values competitive, diverse marketplaces for farmers that pay them fair prices. It has been troubled by the increasing concentration in the meat and poultry industries and supports the attorneys general in their efforts to address it. This is on top of the closures of Tyson, Smithfield and JBS pork processing plants due to COVID-19 outbreaks, leaving farmers to euthanize thousands of hogs.
“Consolidation of meat processors is giving big multinational companies like JBS, which is Brazilian-owned, and Smithfield, which is Chinese-owned, too much sway over farmers’ income,” MFU President Gary Wertish said. “We thank Attorney General Ellison for working with this bipartisan group to address an issue that’s hurting farmers and consumers alike. The Packers and Stockyards Act, introduced in 1921, was put in place to assure fair competition and trade to safeguard farmers and ranchers and to protect consumers from monopolistic practices. It needs to be enforced much more than it is now.
“We’ve witnessed effects of market concentration seeing the closures of a few pork and poultry processing plants leaving huge gaps in our supply chain, in addition to causing farmers immense financial pain. We need a more diverse, flexible and resilient food system that’s fair for everyone.”
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Minnesota Farmers Union—Standing for Agriculture, Working for Farmers (www.mfu.org)