Bipartisan push for investigation into anti-competitive practices by meatpackers in cattle industry

Updated: May. 7, 2020 at 11:41 PM CDT
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(KEYC) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison was one of 11 states’ attorney general in a bipartisan push for an investigation into price-fixing and market manipulation by large meatpackers.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, the group expressed concern over what they call anti-competitive practices by meatpackers in the cattle industry.

“The price the producers get has been flatter declining and the retail price has gone up and I think this is all because of market concentration and market power,” Ellison said.

Currently, 80% of the beef processing market is controlled by four beef processors: Cargill, Tyson Foods, JBS and National Beef.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, boxed beef cutout prices took a historic jump in mid-March, the value of the beef cutout increased by 25% in one week, while on the other side, live cattle futures see a downward trend, dropping 17% in the same time period.

“You know, markets will tend to concentrate unless there’s antitrust enforcement, and we just decided we won’t do it, and what that means is the big get bigger,” Ellison explained.

To highlight the need for anti-trust enforcement, the letter states that beef processors are positioned to coordinate their behavior and create a bottleneck in the industry, inflating prices and harming ranchers and consumers.

“State attorneys general do have authority here, and we’re adding to our staff and we want to build up our team because we think this is a critical area to focus on," Ellison said.

Ellison also shared a piece of advice for America’s farmers and ranchers seeking action.

“We want to be in touch with the ranchers in southern Minnesota and really anywhere, we want to be in conversation," Ellison emphasized. "We want to know how it’s going, so give your attorney general a call because that’s the way we’re going to get to a better place.”

In early April, US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue tweeted that an investigation into increased profit margins for beef packers is in the works, beginning with the timeline starting in August 2019 when a Tyson beef plant caught fire, beginning the upward profit trend for the top processors.

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