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Schmitt urges federal government to investigate meatpacking industry

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has joined with attorneys general from 10 other states in advocating for an investigation into antitrust concerns in the meatpacking industry. 

The letter, led by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and directed to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Attorney General William Barr, seeks an investigation into how meatpackers treat ranchers and consumers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter also alleged the largest beef processors, which control 80 percent of the beef processing market, create a bottleneck to take advantage of both ranchers and consumers, especially harmful in uncertain economic times. 

“During an economic downturn, such as that caused by the current pandemic, firms’ ability to harm American consumers through market manipulation and coordinated behavior exacts a greater toll, providing an additional reason for conducting a careful inquiry into this industry,” the letter said. “In this highly concentrated industry, meatpackers have achieved sizeable profit margins. Cattle ranchers, however, who for generations have supplied our nation’s beef, are squeezed and often struggle to survive. Consumers, moreover, do not realize the benefits from a competitive market. In short, with such high concentration and the threat of increasing consolidation, we have concerns that beef processors are well-positioned to coordinate their behavior and create a bottleneck in the cattle industry — to the detriment of ranchers and consumers alike.”

Schmitt voiced his concern for Missouri’s farmers and their treatment in a time of economic uncertainty. 

“Natural market competition is essential to the health of any industry, including the beef market,” Schmitt said in a statement. “We co-sponsored this letter to ensure that Missouri’s ranchers and farmers, an important component of Missouri’s economy, aren’t subjected to anticompetitive behavior. We urge the Department of Justice to investigate possible instances of anticompetitive behavior in the U.S. beef markets to ensure that Missouri’s farmers and ranchers aren’t continually harmed, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Schmitt’s co-sponsorship of the letter was applauded by the Missouri Cattleman’s Association. 

“Our members are facing economic and financial destruction during this current crisis,” said the association’s president, Marvin Dieckman. “One segment of the industry is making unprecedented profits while the rest of us are counting pennies. We appreciate Attorney General Eric Schmitt for standing up for the farm and ranch families we represent. We need DOJ to open an investigation immediately. This is essential for the cattle farmer who is struggling and the consumer who deserves access to safe, affordable, and nutritious beef.”

This proposed investigation into the industry is supported by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson

“As a third-generation cattleman myself, I understand the stress many in the cattle business have faced for years. Cattlemen and cattlewomen across the United States are simply asking for transparency and accountability from our meatpackers in the beef business. I applaud Attorney General Eric Schmitt for showing leadership on this issue. It is important our farmers and ranchers understand that Missouri supports them.”  

Other co-sponsors on the letter are attorneys general from Colorado and Montana, who also announced their signatures Tuesday, and those from North Dakota, Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming. 

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EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS