Iowa’s beef cattle producers have endured challenges beyond their control for years. Natural disasters such as fires, drought, and derechos have created significant market disruptions.
While we unfortunately cannot control nature, we can control instances of market manipulation and anticompetitive actions undertaken by large corporations in the beef cattle industry. Four companies—Cargill, Tyson, JBS, and National Beef Packing Co.—purchase and process eighty-five percent of total U.S. beef production. Recent, large-scale disruptions at several of those facilities demonstrates how precarious a situation we are in.
In 2019, a single Tyson-owned beef processing plant in Kansas, which processed around six percent of American beef on its own, was closed for months following a large fire. The COVID-19 pandemic caused processing and packing plants to close, which led to additional shortfalls and interruptions in an already uneasy market. Finally, JBS was hit by a ransomware attack that shutdown their plants and stopped production for days.
The fact that these three disruptions impacted our supply chains so severely highlights the problems created by over consolidation in this industry. Anticompetitive practices in the American meatpacking industry, especially in the beef cattle industry, have grown as a threat to both our food supply and national security. Consumers are seeing higher prices at the store, but Iowa’s producers are still losing money. This is unacceptable.
In May of 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division began to investigate the nation’s four biggest meatpackers for anticompetitive practices. Unfortunately, we have seen little, if any, progress in this investigation. In May of 2021, I joined a dozen of my colleagues in the House and Senate in a letter urging Attorney General Merrick Garland to continue the DOJ investigation of the nation’s four biggest meatpackers.
Seeing that nothing was coming of this investigation, I partnered with Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) to introduce the bipartisan and bicameral Meat Packing Special Investigator Act. Our bill, which was also introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Jon Tester (D-MT), would tackle anticompetitive practices in the meat and poultry industries that threaten our food supply and national security.
Our legislation also gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the tools it needs to crack down on bad actors and push for fair competition within the marketplace. By enforcing antitrust laws already on the books through the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921, increasing oversight and enforcement mechanisms, and protecting producers and consumers alike from unfair or deceptive practices, this bicameral bill is a commonsense step towards strengthening the resilience of the American meat industry.
In the 100 years since the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 was signed into law, the beef cattle industry has become significantly more concentrated. Iowa farmers are losing money left and right while the average American pays more at the store. It is way past time to address this issue, and I am proud to be leading this effort to support Iowa’s producers and consumers.
Mariannette Miller-Meeks is a resident of Ottumwa and currently represents Iowa’s Second District in the United States House of Representatives.