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President Trump urges Justice Department to investigate meat price disparities

07 May 2020

President Trump said on 6 May that he had asked the Justice Department to look into allegations that the meat packing industry broke antitrust law due to price disparities in meat markets.

According to Reuters, the price slaughterhouses paid farmers for their animals continued to drop despite escalating retail prices for meat.

"I've asked the Justice Department to look into it. ... I've asked them to take a very serious look into it, because it shouldn't be happening that way and we want to protect our farmers," the president told reporters at a White House event attended by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds.

"Are they dealing with each other? What's going on?" the president asked.

As COVID-19 continues to spread in the United States, multiple large meat processing plants have idled production because of infected staff members. As a result, fewer markets are available to sell livestock and meat prices have risen due to restricted supply.

Trump issued an executive order last week labelling meatpacking plants "critical infrastructure" that must remain open.

Still, the supply shortage has led retailers Costco Wholesale Corp and Kroger Co to limit meat purchases and Wendy's Co to announce on Wednesday it would focus on marketing chicken, having taken its signature hamburgers off the menu at some restaurants.

Agriculture Secretary Perdue told reporters that US meatpacking plants shut down because of coronavirus outbreaks would be fully back in production in a week to 10 days.

He said in April the agency would investigate diverging prices for cattle and beef during the outbreak. He expanded a probe into the market that USDA began last year after beef prices paid by wholesalers soared and cattle prices paid to farmers tanked when a fire shut a Tyson Foods Inc slaughterhouse.

Unions have been calling for companies to provide more protective gear for slaughterhouse workers and ensure daily coronavirus testing.

Cattle producers complained that profits for meat processors like Tyson, Cargill Inc, JBS USA and National Beef Packing Co climbed during the pandemic as cattle prices have dropped due to closures of slaughterhouses.

"I’m glad outsiders are finally seeing the issues that the cattle industry has been dealing with for a long time," said Lee Reichmuth, a Nebraska cattle producer and board member for the United States Cattlemen’s Association.

Asked about price-fixing allegations, Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan said that "the assertions lack merit, and we are confident in our efforts to maintain market integrity and conduct ethical business."

Tyson had no immediate comment, while JBS USA and National Beef Packing did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Read more about this story here.



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