Biden officials raise concerns about rising meat prices

Biden administration officials on Wednesday raised concerns about increased prices of meat at the grocery store and outlined steps officials are taking to ease the burden on families and farmers.

Appearing at a White House briefing, National Economic Council Director Brian DeeseBrian DeeseWhite House weighing steps to address gas shortages Environmental activists' email blast disrupted White House communications over two days: report Sinema in Arizona as Democrats try to get spending-infrastructure deal MORE said that increasing prices for meat products — poultry, beef and pork — are driving half of the food price increases consumers are experiencing at grocery stores. Deese noted that four companies control the majority of meat supply chains, with those companies seeing record or near record profits during the coronavirus pandemic. Those companies are JBS, Tyson Foods, Cargill Meat Solutions Corp., and National Beef Packing Co.

“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,” Deese told reporters.

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To address the price increases, the Department of Agriculture plans to invest $1.4 billion in pandemic assistance to get relief to small producers, processors and distributors, officials outlined in a blog post. The USDA and Justice Department are also conducting a joint investigation into price-fixing in the chicken-processing industry.

The USDA is also expanding the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program to include assistance that helps cover transportation expenses for feed, in order to address impacts of drought on meat prices.

Administration officials say they will also work with Congress to improve price discovery in cattle markets. The White House blog post says that the administration is “encouraged” by bipartisan legislation that aims to boost transparency in cattle pricing.

“The reality is today that farmers are losing money on cattle, on hogs and poultry that they’re selling at a time when consumers are seeing higher prices at the grocery store,” Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackTom VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE said at Wednesday’s briefing.

Vilsack said the administration’s goals are to ensure that farmers get a fair return and consumers get fair prices.

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Tyson Foods issued a statement Wednesday evening rejecting claims made by the White House, saying that the increased price of beef has been caused by "unprecedented market conditions." 

"Multiple, unprecedented market shocks, including a global pandemic and severe weather conditions, led to an
unexpected and drastic drop in meat processors’ abilities to operate at full capacity," Tyson said. "This led to an oversupply of live cattle and an undersupply of beef, while demand for beef products was at an all-time high. So, as a result, the price for cattle fell, while the price for beef rose. Today, prices paid to cattle producers are rising."

The company added that it is "inaccurate to suggest that consolidation in the meat processing industry is leading to higher prices for consumers."

The latest consumer price index showed that grocery prices increased 0.6 percent from June to July of this year and that over the past year prices grew 2.6 percent. The food industry is one of multiple sectors that have experienced inflation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans have sought to attack President BidenJoe Biden White House: US has donated 200 million COVID-19 vaccines around the world Police recommend charges against four over Sinema bathroom protest K Street revenues boom MORE over the increase in prices of goods and services, trying to tie the pandemic-driven inflation to his policies.

Updated at 8:37 p.m.