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Meat monopoly: Utah AG concerned about possible meat price-fixing

Utah's Attorney General is concerned about price fixing in the meatpacking industry, which has been hit hard by soaring demand during the pandemic. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s attorney general is concerned about meat and potential price-fixing in the meatpacking industry.

Attorney General Sean Reyes notes the industry has been hit hard by soaring demand during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, he’s calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to join Utah and other states to investigate why the price of meat is going up while the price of cattle is going down.

Taking a look at pricing margins

Concerns over market manipulation are increasing as beef prices reach record levels, although cattle prices remain low. In fact, the Deseret News points out they are mostly decreasing.

Reyes says pricing margins are a sign that meatpackers are using their ability to control the market for processed beef and take advantage of the situation. According to him, that could potentially be a violation of federal antitrust law if  price-fixing is happening to meat products.

Reyes says in addition to harming cattle producers, the potentially illegal practice also hurts consumers nationwide.

“Especially now, we need to encourage fair competition in the meatpacking industry and protect consumers,” he explains.

A few controlling a lot 

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Reyes notes that the four largest meatpacking companies — Tyson Foods, JBS Beef Co., Cargill Meat Solutions and NationalBeef — control more than 75 percent of the beef processing in the United States.

“Cattle ranchers are being squeezed and many are struggling to survive,” the letter reads. “Many [are] operating at losses, threatening the sustainability of this critically important segment of our economy and food supply. Consumers, moreover, are being deprived of the benefit of purchasing beef at prices and quantities set by a healthy and competitive market.”

In May 2019, Tyson Fresh Meats, a subsidiary of Tyson Foods, announced the construction of a $300 million food-production plant in Eagle Mountain, Utah. Deseret News says the proposed 400,000-square-foot case-ready plant would initially provide 800 new jobs. The company’s goal is to take cuts of beef and pork and convert them into steaks, chops, roasts and ground meat to be sold in grocery stores.