Citing Food Bills, Biden Takes Aim at Meat Processors

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14%

The Balance

That’s how much grocery store beef prices have jumped this year, a problem the Biden administration blamed Wednesday on a lack of competition among profiteering meat processing companies.

Promising to crack down on what it called illegal price fixing and other antitrust issues, the White House said meat prices accounted for half of the overall increases consumers saw at the grocery store between December and July. Beef rose the most, but prices for pork jumped 12% and poultry 6.6%, Consumer Price Index data shows, fueling higher grocery bills and contributing to overall inflation rates that haven’t been higher since 2008.

Just a handful of companies control the majority of the market for the three meats after decades of conglomerates absorbing smaller processors, according to the White House. The largest four beef-packing firms, for example, control 82% of the market today, compared with 25% in 1977.

The North American Meat Institute called the administration’s comments inflammatory and said labor shortages, not a lack of competition, are to blame for the higher prices in the meat industry and many others. 

“American consumers of most goods and services are seeing higher costs, largely due to a persistent and widespread labor shortage,” Mark Dopp, the institute’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “The meat and poultry industry is no different.”

President Joe Biden’s economic advisors announced the new focus in a blog post laying out steps to increase transparency and strengthen enforcement of rules limiting the power of meat processors to set prices with farmers as well as consumers. The administration also said it would provide $1.4 billion in aid to small businesses that produce, process, or distribute meat and have been impacted by the pandemic.

Shortages of materials, and higher transportation and freight costs have also contributed to the high overall inflation. Businesses in some areas of the country anticipate “significant hikes in their selling prices” in the coming months, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday in a recurring report on business views of current economic conditions.

Medora Lee contributed to this report.

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