US meat industry consolidation crackdown: US$1BN to expand independent plants and boost competition
04 Jan 2022 --- A major crackdown of US meat giants is on the cards to get away from the country’s current system whereby a handful of producers dominate the industry, raise prices, squeeze out farmers and control opportunities. And, as meat producers come under heavy scrutiny, the US government is pushing for stricter “Made in America” labeling rules.
Excessive market concentration in the US meat industry has been highlighted as contributing to the country’s food supply chain vulnerabilities.
In a bid to avoid the “dramatic consolidation of the industry,” the US administration yesterday launched an action plan targeting a fairer, more competitive and more resilient meat and poultry supply chain.
This includes US$1 billion worth of funds targeting expansion of independent processing capacity and a catalog of other rescue package plans.
Moving away from mammoth meatpackers
According to the White House, the meat and poultry processing sector is a “textbook example” of over dominance, with lack of competition hurting consumers, producers and the country’s economy.
Four large meat packing companies, Tyson Foods, control 85% of the beef market. The top four processing firms control 54% of the market in poultry. And in pork, the top four processing firms control about 70% of the market.
The meatpackers and processors buy from farmers and sell to retailers like grocery stores, making them a critical bottleneck in the food supply chain, stresses the White House.
President Joe Biden met with farmers, ranchers, and independent processors yesterday to discuss its initiative.
Expand independent processing capacity
The US$1 billion funds for expansion of independent processing capacity follow a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) review of nearly 450 comments received over the summer in response to its request for input on how best to increase independent processing capacity.
Through their analysis of stakeholder input, USDA identified an urgent need to:
- Expand and diversify meat and poultry processing capacity;
- Increase producer income;
- Provide producers an opportunity to have ownership in processing facilities;
- Create stable, well-paying jobs in rural regions;
- Raise the bar on worker health, safety, training and wages for meatpacking jobs;
- Spur collaboration among producers and workers;
- Prompt state, tribal and private co-investment; and
- Provide consumers with more choices.
Labeling rules come into sharpened focus
Under the new plans, there will be new “Product of USA” labeling rules so that consumers can better understand where their meat comes from. Under current labeling rules, meat can be labeled “Product of USA” if it is only processed in the country — including when meat is raised overseas and then processed into cuts of meat in the US.
“We believe this could make it hard for American consumers to know what they are getting. USDA has already begun its top-to-bottom review of the current labeling rules and consumers’ understanding of the labels, with the goal of new rulemaking to clarify “Product of USA” standards,” says the USDA.
The USDA will issue new, stronger rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act — the law designed to combat abuses by the meatpackers and processors.
The USDA has already begun work on three proposed rules to provide greater clarity and strengthen enforcement under the Act. USDA is also currently working with the Federal Trade Commission to prepare a report on access to retail and competition’s role in protecting new market entrants in meat processing.
Plans are also afoot for a portal designed to report concerns about potential competition laws’ violations while making cattle markets fairer and more transparent.
Consumers paying more
The USDA’s statement further details how US consumers are paying more for meat, with meat and poultry prices now the single most significant contributor to the rising cost of food people consume at home.
“And, when too few companies control such a large portion of the market, our food supply chains are susceptible to shocks. When COVID-19 or other disasters such as fires or cyberattacks shutter a plant, many ranchers have no other place to take their animals. Our overreliance on just a handful of giant processors leaves us all vulnerable, with any disruptions at these bottlenecks rippling throughout our food system,” it says.
Last summer, JBS was hit by a cyberattack, which resulted in the company paying US$11 million in ransom to end disruptions.
By Gaynor Selby
To contact our editorial team please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.