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White House blames Big Meat for rising prices, alleges ‘profiteering’

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The Biden administration has beef with Big Meat.

The White House this week slammed the four biggest companies in the meat industry, accusing them of “raising prices while generating record profits during the pandemic” and blaming them for soaring price inflation at grocery stores across the country.

Increases in the prices of beef, pork and poultry are driving the overall spike in food prices seen since late 2020, said White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese.

As consumers prices have gone up, though, farmers and ranchers haven’t seen the amount their paid by giant meat companies rise, too, Deese said.

White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese accused meat companies of “pandemic profiteering” by raising prices.Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

“It raises a concern about pandemic profiteering, about companies that are driving price increases in a way that hurts consumers who are going to the grocery store,” Deese said at a news briefing Wednesday.

The Biden administration went so far as to call the four largest meat firms “middlemen” who use their “power to squeeze both consumers and farmers and ranchers,” Deese and two other White House aides wrote in a blog post.

Those four firms are Minnesota-based commodity trader Cargill, Arkansas-based chicken producer Tyson Foods, Brazil-based meatpacker JBS and Missouri-based National Beef Packing Co., which is owned by Brazilian beef producer Marfrig Global Foods.

According to data, some meat products have recently seen a spike in prices at stores.
According to data, some meat products have recently seen a spike in prices at stores.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Together, those companies slaughtered about 85 percent of US grain-fattened cattle that are made into steaks, beef roasts and other cuts of meat in 2018, according to the most recent data available from the US Department of Agriculture.

Tyson Foods, which sells beef, pork and chicken, fired back at the White House, calling its allegations “inaccurate.”

In a statement, Tyson said the meat industry has suffered from multiple market shocks due to “a global pandemic and severe weather conditions” that have knocked supply and demand throughout the industry off balance and sent prices up.

There’s been a “drastic drop in meat processors’ abilities to operate at full capacity,” Tyson said in a statement. “This led to an oversupply of live cattle and an undersupply of beef, while demand for beef products was at an all-time high.”

The company also blamed the nationwide labor shortage for holding back its ability to boost the supply of meat in grocery stores. As for chicken, Tyson has previously blamed underperforming roosters for holding back this year’s supply of new chicks.

Cargill, JBS and National Beef did not return The Post’s requests for comment.

“Issuing inflammatory statements that ignore the fundamentals of how supply and demand affects markets accomplishes nothing,” said Mark Dopp, COO of the North American Meat Institute, an industry group that represents meatpackers.

Tyson Foods put out a statement labeling the White House's claims as "inaccurate."
Tyson Foods put out a statement labeling the White House’s claims as “inaccurate.”
AP Photo/April L. Brown, File

In July, beef and veal prices were up 6.5 percent from a year earlier, while poultry prices were up 5.3 percent and pork prices were 7.8 percent higher, according to the latest data from the Consumer Price Index.

Chicken prices have risen the most in the past year since any 12-month period back to 2004, according to the federal data.

The USDA and the Department of Justice are already investigating price-fixing in the chicken-processing industry, the White House said.

The administration added that the USDA will invest $1.4 billion in pandemic assistance to provide relief to small producers, processors, distributors, farmers markets, seafood processors and food and farm workers impacted by COVID-19.

The hammering of Big Meat comes months after President Joe Biden made cracking down on anticompetitive corporate behavior and industry consolidation a key part of his platform.

A meeting of a new White House Competition Council created by Biden is set for Friday.

With Post wires

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