Biden focuses on concentration, competition in meat, poultry meeting
In an online roundtable meeting Monday with farmers, ranchers and poultry growers, President Biden focused on their problems and concentration in the meat industry, rather than on the issue of inflation for consumers.
Several key legislators farm leaders praised Biden’s comments and actions, while Bill Bullard of R-CALF USA expressed uncertainty and leaders of the North American Meat Institute and the National Chicken Council were critical.
In his remarks, Biden acknowledged that meat and poultry prices are higher than before the pandemic.
Noting that this weekend a family friend had brought up the fact that hamburger is now more than $5 per pound, Biden said, “the pound of beef today costs five bucks, compared to less than four bucks before the pandemic.”
But he quickly shifted to the fact that farmers and ranchers used to get a higher percentage of the consumer dollar.
According to a transcript released by the White House, Biden said, “And here’s some historical context: Fifty years ago, ranchers got over 60 cents for every dollar a family spent on beef. Today, they get about 39 cents. Fifty years ago, hog farmers got 40 to 50  cents for each dollar they spent. Today, it’s about 19 cents. And the big companies are making massive profits.”
“While, their profits go up, the prices you see at the grocery stores go up commensurate and the prices farmers receive for the products they are bringing to market go down,” Biden said.
“This reflects the market being distorted by a lack of competition.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism; it’s exploitation.”
Biden released a plan to address these issues.
The White House said the following people joined in the virtual meeting:
▪ Attorney General Merrick Garland
▪ Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
▪ Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council
▪ Corwin Heatwole, CEO, Farmer Focus
▪ Scott Blubaugh, president, Oklahoma Farmers Union
▪ Kelsey Ducheneaux-Scott, director of programs, Intertribal Agriculture Council
▪ Brent Johnson, president, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation
▪ Handy Kennedy Jr., owner, HK Farms
The White House also released a readout of the meeting and a summary of statements of those praising the meeting. It noted that Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., other officeholders, and farm leaders including American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall and National Farmers Union President Rob Larew, issued positive statements about Biden’s statements and his plan.
Grassley noted that the White House is urging support of competition legislation he has co-sponsored.
Stabenow said, “The Biden-Harris administration action plan takes important steps forward in creating a stronger and fairer meat and poultry supply chain that respects workers, stabilizes food prices for consumers, and fairly compensates farmers and ranchers for putting food on our tables.”
Duvall said, “AFBF appreciates the Biden administration’s continued work to ensure a fair and competitive meat processing system. …”
“The joint initiative between USDA and the Department of Justice to create an online portal to report competition law violations, and efforts to strengthen the Packers & Stockyards act, will go a long way to ensuring fairness in the industry.”
Larew said, “We are hopeful that the administration’s renewed focus on boosting competition and reducing prices will force the changes needed to create an even playing field for those who take on the responsibility of feeding America, and thank President Biden for leading the effort to address these issues.”
R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said, “We recognize that this level of government involvement is unprecedented, and that it’s critical for reversing the decades of inattention, neglect and denial that facilitated the elimination of competition in our U.S. cattle industry.”
Yet Bullard said his group remains skeptical about the plan’s strategy for addressing decades of nonenforcement of U.S. antitrust laws and the 100-year-old Packers and Stockyards Act.
But Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute, which represents meat processors, said in a news release, “The Biden administration continues to ignore the number one challenge to meat and poultry production: labor shortages.”
“This tired approach is not surprising because they have refused to engage with the packing and processing sector they attack, going so far as to hold a roundtable on meat packing without a single beef or pork packer present,” Potts said.
“Press conferences and using taxpayer dollars to establish government-sponsored packing and processing plants will not do anything to address the lack of labor at meat and poultry plants and spiking inflation across the economy.
“The administration wants the American people to believe that the meat and poultry industry is unique and not experiencing the same problems causing inflation across the economy, like increased input costs, increased energy costs, labor shortages and transportation challenges. Consumers know better.”
National Chicken Council President Mike Brown said, “While we haven’t seen any proposals, for the chicken industry, this looks like a solution in search of a problem.”
“The vast majority of chicken farmers are thriving helping to produce America’s number one protein. In fact, chicken companies have waiting lists of potential family farmers that want to partner with them and enter into the chicken business.
“The chicken industry is the least consolidated in all of animal agriculture, and the market share of the top four companies has been virtually the same for the past 20 years,” Brown said.
“It’s time for The White House to stop playing chicken with our food system and stop using the meat industry as a scapegoat for the significant challenges facing our economy. This administration should be looking at the chicken industry as a model of success, instead of creating a boogeyman to justify an unnecessary and expensive foray into our meat supply.”
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