“The packers, they’re making all kinds of profits, so we’ve got change it,” Feenstra says. “We’ve got to break up the monopoly.”
Four companies — JBS, Smithfield, Cargill, and Tyson — control more than 80 percent of the beef packing industry. And, while beef consumption and consumer prices soared during the early months of the pandemic, profits did not trickle down to producers. The prices for cattle sold at market fell. Feenstra, a Republican from Hull, says his in-laws raise livestock, so the financial reality hits close to home.
“It’s just painful to see, especially when live cattle is at $1.50, if you can get that now,” Feenstra says, “and then you have boxed beef at a high of $227 or somewhere thereabouts.”
Boxed beef is the wholesale price of cuts of meat. Feenstra, who hopes to become a member of the U.S. House Ag Committee when he’s sworn into office on January 3, 2021, says it’s time for congress to examine the Packers and Stockyards Act. The law was drafted to assure fair competition and fair trade practices in the livestock industry.
“That act has been on the books for decades and we don’t use it and there is a problem,” Feenstra says. “There is a massive concern.”
The law was originally passed in 1921. A major update in 1976 gave the USDA authority to issue fines for anti-competitive practices in the meat packing industry.
Feenstra made his comments during a recent appearance on the Iowa Press program on Iowa PBS.