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Biden administration says it’s concerned about possible ‘pandemic profiteering’ by meat processors

Biden administration officials on Wednesday raised concerns about rising prices for meat and touted their efforts to scrutinize meat processors amid consolidation in that industry.

“About half of the overall increase in grocery prices can be attributed to a significant increase in prices in three products — in beef, in pork and in poultry,” top White House economic adviser Brian Deese told reporters during a briefing, adding that there has been significant consolidation.

“When you see that level of consolidation and the increase in prices, 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, and also isn’t benefiting the actual producers, the farmers and the ranchers that are growing the product,” said Deese, whose title is director of the National Economic Council.

The specific actions highlighted by the administration on Wednesday included crackdowns on illegal price fixing and enforcement of antitrust laws, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducting an ongoing joint investigation with the Justice Department into price fixing in the chicken-processing industry.

The White House also said in a statement that the USDA will spend $1.4 billion for COVID-19 relief to small producers, processors, distributors, farmers markets, workers and others impacted by COVID-19. In addition, the White House said it’s working with Congress to make cattle markets more transparent and fairer, and it will expand the USDA’s Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program.

The focus on meat processors comes after President Joe Biden two months ago signed an executive order aimed at big business, with the much-anticipated measure targeting industries such as meat processing.

Top meat processors in the U.S. include Arkansas-based Tyson Foods
TSN,
-1.53%
,
Brazil-based JBS
JBSAY,
-3.66%
,
China-based WH Group’s
WHGRF,
+1.17%

Smithfield Foods and Minnesota-based Cargill. Those companies didn’t respond immediately to requests for comments.

Now see: Tyson stock rises after earnings beat

Also: Tyson, facing lawsuits over pandemic-related deaths, spent $540 million on COVID-19 in fiscal 2020

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