Economy

President Biden Blasts Meat-Processing Conglomerates For High Prices

Beef prices have jumped more than 20% over the past year, and President Biden is blaming meatpacking companies for edging out independent farmers.

President Biden Blasts Meat-Processing Conglomerates For High Prices
Andrew Harnik / AP
SMS

President Joe Biden met virtually with independent farmers and ranchers Monday to discuss initiatives to reduce food prices by increasing competition within the meat industry, part of a broader effort to show his administration is trying to combat inflation.

Higher-than-expected inflation has thwarted President Biden's agenda, hurt his public approval rating, become fodder for Republican attacks and prompted Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin to cite higher prices as a reason to sideline the president's tax, social and economic programs. In November, consumer prices rose 6.8% over the prior 12 months — a 39-year high.

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On food costs, President Biden is building off a July executive order that directed the Agriculture Department to more aggressively look at possible violations of the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act, which was designed to ensure fair competition and protect consumers. Meat prices have climbed 16% from a year ago, with beef prices up 20.9%.

The administration is targeting meat processing plants, which can shape the prices paid to farmers and charged to consumers. The White House issued a fact sheet saying the top four companies control 85% of the beef market. In poultry, the biggest four processing firms control 54% of the market. And for pork, the figure is 70% for the four biggest firms.

President Biden outlined plans to distribute $1 billion from the coronavirus relief package to help independent meat processors expand. He also highlighted money to train workers in the industry and improve conditions, as well as issue new rules for meatpackers and labeling requirements for being designated a "Product of USA."

The Justice Department and the Agriculture Department will launch a joint effort to make it easier to report anti-competitive actions to the government. The administration will also seek to improve the transparency of the cattle market, with President Biden saying, "A free market isn't truly free without transparency around prices."

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.