Ten Attorneys General from around the nation, including South Dakota’s, want the Department of Justice to investigate meat packers for alleged price fixing.
In the letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, the state leaders point to a likely market manipulation for processed beef.
Attorneys General from across several western and Midwestern states want the Department of Justice to investigate competition in the cattle meatpacking industry. South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg says consumers and ranchers have been deprived of the benefits of a competitive cattle industry.
Ravnsborg says there’s disparity between liveweight cattle and the retail cost of beef.
“I think that show that the market is maybe lagging,” Ravnsborg says. “Doesn’t have full and fair competition. I don’t say at this point—and our letter doesn’t say at this point—that we have conclusive proof or anything, but that we need an investigation.”
U.S. Senator Mike Rounds wants a similar investigation into the packing industry. He says some issues exacerbated the situation, like consumers who stocked up on beef before much of the country shutdown in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The letter from the attorneys general alleges that four packing plants control 80 percent of the cattle market. It suggests that even if enforcement action can’t be pursued, regulatory strategies should promote competition, address market manipulation and protect consumers.
James Halverson is the executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association. He says producers have been aware of the issue for some time.
“I just don’t think in any other industry you see that little competition and that little regulation,” Halverson says. “We’re all about a free market and a capitalist economy, but that is absolutely predicated on competition and fair markets. That’s why we have these anti-trust laws in place. We need them. We need them to be enforced.”
Representatives from JBS, Tyson, National Beef and Cargill were not immediately available for comment.