An industry trade group has accused the Biden administration of scapegoating the nation’s meat producers instead of addressing what it says are the real reasons the price of beef has risen.
In a letter sent late Wednesday to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the North American Meat Institute blamed a nationwide labor shortage for soaring recent food prices.
“Recent press stories report the industry’s recruitment efforts, including wage increases, signing bonuses, relocation bonuses, retention bonuses and generous benefits,” NAMI President and CEO Julie Anna Potts wrote in the letter. “This labor shortage impact is not only on processing lines but also warehouse workers, maintenance positions and other jobs critical to maintaining the supply chain.”
At a White House press conference last week, Mr. Vilsack and White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese accused the nation’s four largest meat firms of illegal price-fixing.
The administration has accused the meat industry of “pandemic profiteering,” saying the four companies are collecting excessive profits while benefiting from both COVID-19 funds and increased demand for their products.
“When you see the level of consolidation and the increase in prices, it raises a concern 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,” Mr. Deese said last week.
The four largest meat processors in the U.S. are Cargill, Tyson Foods Inc., National Beef Packing Co., and JBS SA, a Brazilian company. Together, those companies control about 85% of the meat processing market.
Ms. Potts said the industry was surprised by the allegations. Over the past three months, NIMA staff met with officials from the White House and Agriculture Department, she wrote.
Not once in any of the meetings did government officials suggest that consolidation and profiteering were behind consumer price increases she wrote. Ms. Potts also said no one from the administration reached out to the industry to raise the issue ahead of last week’s press conference.
“All were substantive discussions about the meat and poultry industry, but not once in any meeting did White House or USDA staff suggest consumer prices were rising because of industry structure,” she wrote. “For an issue the White House deemed sufficiently significant to warrant discussion during an entire press briefing, somebody within the Biden administration should have engaged with the industry.”