Bipartisan pair of senators request antitrust probe into meatpacking industry
Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) have asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to open an antitrust investigation into the meatpacking industry and its potential to cause significant disruptions in the food supply chain.
The senators note that the beef industry is dominated by Tyson Foods, Cargill, JBS S.A. and Smithfield Foods, which processes 85 percent of all U.S. beef. Three multinational companies, Tyson Foods from the U.S., JBS from Brazil and Smithfield from China, process 63 percent of all U.S. pork products.
“Following a spate of COVID-19 infections among plant workers, in recent days these oligopolistic companies have closed three pork plants indefinitely, resulting in the shutdown of a staggering 15 percent of America’s pork production,” the senators wrote to the FTC, referring to Smithfield plants in Missouri, Wisconsin and South Dakota that have closed due to coronavirus outbreaks.
The letter comes a day after President Trump signed an executive order, using the Defense Production Act to order meat and poultry processing plants to stay open in an effort to prevent further disruptions to the food supply.
“We write to urge you to exercise that authority to investigate the growing concentration in the meatpacking and processing industry, and any anticompetitive behavior resulting from this concentration,” the senators wrote.
Trump’s order came after estimates that meat production capacity nationwide could be reduced by as much as 80 percent due to closures from coronavirus outbreaks.
Other food processing companies have also closed plants.
Tyson Foods has closed a pork processing plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, after two people died and at least 148 workers tested positive, as well as a pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, because too many workers have been absent.
A JBS beef production facility temporarily closed after it was the center of a coronavirus outbreak in Green Bay, Wis., on Sunday, which was the fourth JBS plant to close during the pandemic.
Hawley on Tuesday asked Attorney General William Barr to launch a criminal antitrust investigation into Amazon following reports that the technology company used data from third-party sellers on its platform to develop competing products.