Beef ranchers have grown increasingly irate at the Biden administration, asserting that the president’s July 2021 executive order has not gone remotely far enough in helping reduce beef prices via increased competition. To date, four massive meatpackers form an oligopoly in terms of beef supply, which continues to dominate the American market.
Tim Gibbons, a representative for Missouri Rural Crisis Center, proclaimed that the ranchers would like “to bring some semblance of competition back to cattle market.”
Gibbons noted that the state of Missouri currently has 50,000 cattle producers, but 80 percent of all beef packing remains “controlled by four companies” that represent 5,600 different farms.
“Nothing has changed,” Gibbons scoffed.
Beef ranchers also take issue with previous errors from the Obama administration, notably permitting massive companies to label beef as a “product of the USA” if the beef was merely processed in the United States. Consequently, large companies are able to procure cheap beef from overseas and brand it as “American-made” once the beef is processed inside the nation’s borders.
“That pound of ground beef [‘Made in the USA’] … could be from five or six countries,” rancher Darvin Bentlage informed The Hill.
While Biden’s executive order may well have closed the gaping loophole left open by the Obama administration, ranchers question exactly how the federal government intends to enforce the order in a practical setting, especially given the powerful economic position held by the aforementioned oligopoly.
According to Austin Frerick, the Deputy Director of Yale University’s Thurman Arnold Project, “the industry … is using political power to chip away at regulations.”
The four prominent companies, which are JBS, Smithfield, Cargill, and Tyson, collectively lobbied the Obama administration in order to prevent extensive federal regulation regarding the origins of beef.
However, the success of the oligopoly translates into economic pain for smaller ranchers, which is precisely why “in a time of down cattle markets, the last thing USDA needs to do is limit opportunity, as asserted by Tracy Brunner, the President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“The fact of the matter is [that] we don’t trust the government to meddle in the marketplace,” Brunner declared.
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