WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden virtually met with independent farmers and ranchers this week to discuss initiatives to reduce food prices by increasing competition in the meat industry, as part of ‘a broader effort to show that his administration is trying to fight inflation.
“Capitalism without competition is not capitalism – it is exploitation,” Biden said.
Higher than expected inflation thwarted Biden’s agenda, hurt his public approval rating, became fodder for Republican attacks and prompted Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., to quote higher prices as a reason to put aside taxes, social and economic programs. In November, consumer prices rose 6.8% over the previous 12 months, a 39-year high.
When it comes to food costs, Biden leans on a July executive order that ordered the Agriculture Department to more aggressively look into possible violations of the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act. , designed to ensure fair competition and protect consumers. Meat prices are up 16% from a year ago, and beef prices are up 20.9%.
The president said the higher prices were the subject of frustration at his own kitchen table. His wife, Jill, was talking with her sister and a friend on Sunday about a pound of hamburger meat costing $ 5 a pound, down from less than $ 4 before the pandemic.
The administration targets meat processing plants, which can shape the prices paid to farmers and charged to consumers. The White House released a backgrounder indicating that the four largest companies control 85% of the beef market. In poultry, the four largest processing companies control 54% of the market. And for pork, the figure is 70% for the four largest companies.
Some industry groups oppose the monitoring planned by the food industry administration.
Neil Bradley, executive vice president and director of policy at the United States Chamber of Commerce, said the coronavirus and higher energy and labor costs are pushing up meat prices , not the business structure of the industry.
Bradley said the administration was practicing politics instead of economics, and “government intervention would likely limit supply further and push prices even higher.”
Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council, said, “It sounds like a solution looking for a problem.” He said the administration was using the food industry as a “scapegoat for the significant challenges facing our economy”.
Yet there are also groups representing farmers and ranchers who have applauded Biden’s decisions, saying the current system puts independent producers and consumers at a disadvantage.
“We need to understand why farmers and ranchers continue to receive low payments as families across America experience rising meat prices,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “We are encouraged by the administration’s willingness to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to improve price discovery in livestock markets.”
Biden described his intention to distribute $ 1 billion from the coronavirus relief program to help independent meat processors grow. He also pointed to money to train workers in the industry and improve conditions, as well as to issue new rules for meat packers and labeling requirements to be designated as a “product of the United States.” .
The Department of Justice and the Department of Agriculture would launch a joint effort to facilitate reporting anti-competitive actions to the government. The administration will also seek to improve transparency in the livestock market, with Biden saying: “A free market is not truly free without price transparency.”
The effort is part of a larger attempt to regain control of America’s economic narrative. Besides inflation, repeated waves of the coronavirus epidemic have cooled people’s views on the economy despite strong growth over the past year.