President Donald Trump told reporters Wednesday he has asked the Justice Department to look into allegations that U.S. meat packers broke antitrust law because the prices paid to farmers and ranchers has declined even as meat prices rose, Reuters reports.
“I’ve asked the Justice Department to look into it. ... I’ve asked them to take a very serious look into it, because it shouldn’t be happening that way and we want to protect our farmers,” the president said at a White House event attended by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds.
“Are they dealing with each other? What’s going on?” the president asked.
Many beef, pork and poultry processing plants have either closed temporarily or significantly slowed their production in recent weeks which has reduced the markets farmers and ranchers have to sell their livestock. Both beef and pork processing capacities have been reduced by as much as 40%.
Trump issued an executive order last week labeling meatpacking plants “critical infrastructure” that must stay open. Yet the supply shortage continues and retailers Costco Wholesale Corp and Kroger Co are limiting meat purchases and Wendy’s Co to announced Wednesday it would focus on marketing chicken, having taken its signature “fresh” hamburgers off the menu at some restaurants.
Perdue told reporters that U.S. meatpacking plants shut down because of coronavirus outbreaks would be fully back in production in a week to 10 days. Perdue also said in April the agency would investigate diverging prices for cattle and beef during the outbreak. He expanded a probe into the market that USDA began last year after wholesale beef prices soared at the same time cash cattle prices declined after the fire at Tyson’s Finney County, Kan., facility.
USDA reported the Choice beef cutout price on Wednesday at $449.18 per cwt., up $20.19 from Tuesday, and up $71.73 per cwt. (+16%) since Friday’s (May 1) close. Meanwhile, cash fed cattle prices were reported at $95.18 on Wednesday (May 6) by USDA.