The Potluck

Sen. Tina Smith signs on to letter requesting DOJ antitrust investigation into beef processing industry

By: - May 28, 2021 11:52 am

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U.S. Sen. Tina Smith has signed on to a letter asking the Justice Department to investigate whether four large beef processors have a monopoly on meat processing that some members of Congress say is leading to high retail beef prices.

Led by South Dakota Republican Sen. Michael Rounds, the bipartisan effort includes two dozen U.S. senators and representatives, who want Attorney General Merrick Garland to review whether anticompetitive practices in the industry are hurting consumers and ranchers who say they are being paid low prices for their cattle.

“From our perspective, the anticompetitive practices occurring in the industry today are unambiguous and either our antitrust laws are not being enforced or they are not capable of addressing the apparent oligopoly that so plainly exists,” reads the letter, dated May 27. “This is where we need to work together.”

Minnesota ranks tenth in its production of beef, making $2 billion in annual sales, according to Minnesota Department of Agriculture figures. 

The letter is expected to be sent to the Justice Department next week. 

Bloomberg News last June reported that the Justice Department had already issued subpoenas to the four meatpacking companies: Tyson Foods Inc., JBS SA, Minnesota-based Cargill Inc. and National Beef Inc. Altogether, the four companies control more than 80% of the U.S. beef processing market. 

Messages seeking requests for comments from the four companies were not immediately returned Friday.

In February, executives at Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. pleaded guilty and were sentenced to pay $107 million in fines after being charged with price fixing. The plea agreement says that from 2012 to 2017, the company had conspired to suppress and eliminate competition for sales of broiler chicken products in the U.S.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.