A group of Attorneys General from 11 states — including Iowa — are asking the U.S. Department of Justice to start a federal investigation into suspected national price-fixing by meatpackers in the cattle industry.
Iowa Attorney General spokesman, Lynn Hicks says the coronavirus pandemic has magnified the issue. “The group of AG’s, which is bipartisan group is asking the DOJ for a thorough examination of the meatpacking industry,” Hicks says. “We feel that there is enough evidence here for alleged price-fixing and it’s time for the Department of Justice to look into this.”
The concerns come as people are buying and stockpiling beef in response to the pandemic. “Antitrust concerns about the cattle market are nothing new — but we really feel like with the COVID-19 pandemic — it really shows the problems that both the consumers and cattle ranchers are facing right now,” Hicks says.
Hicks says four packers control 80% of the beef market. “So it’s highly concentrated and meatpackers have all the power. And as such, they are able to charge high prices,” according to Hicks. “But, as we’ve seen lately, live cattle prices are the lowest they have been in years. They’re raising the prices and the consumers are buying, and the ranchers aren’t getting any benefit at all from this.”
Hicks says they are hoping the DOJ will see the number of people calling for an investigation and act. “These are all Midwestern or western states that are cattle producers. It’s not just the Attorneys General who are raising concerns — Senator Grassley and some others have also sent letters to Attorney General Barr regarding this,” Hicks says. “We’re hoping for all of these voices, and the voices of Iowans and cattle producers will be heard in Washington.”
Attorneys General in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming all signed on to the letter.
The letter comes on the same day that the Hy-Vee grocery store chain says it will start limiting the purchase of meat products to be prepared for any possible fluctuations in the product. Hy-Vee says in a statement that they have products available at stores –but due to worker shortages at plants as well as an increase in meat sales, customers may not find the specific items they want. Beginning Wednesday, each customer will be limited to four packages of a combination of fresh beef, ground beef, pork, and chicken.