By Dennis Sun
If there is anything good to come out of this pandemic mess that we’ve been victims of since early March, I hope it will be a better food supply and easier access for consumers to buy meat and vegetables locally. But, it will only come to be if we make some changes.
This spring, the shortage of meat in grocery store meat counters really had an impact on consumers. Now, we can’t forget the impact of this and do nothing.
The meat shortage was great for those companies making hamburger products from chemicals, vegetables and Lord only knows what else. It really opened the door for these companies and their products, and it caught the meat industry standing flat footed.
It went so well, some huge meat companies started making the meatless patties themselves.
This all happened after the 2019 fire at a Tyson Foods in Holcomb, Kan. The slaughterhouse processed six percent of all cattle in the U.S. The price of fat cattle – really all live cattle – fell, while wholesale beef prices rose. The major meat processors made a lot of money off cattle they were processing, while those producing the animals suffered.
In the meantime, the restaurant business shrunk to solely carry-out services, while many were forced to close. The packinghouses were forced to adjust to low restaurant business, but still enjoyed high wholesale beef prices.
Producers and consumers called for investigations, suspecting price manipulations and other unfair practices. Some of us also realized a few of these unfair practices came about because the meatpackers had the luxury of doing as they please. There are some regulations and laws that need to be changed.
Now, there are ongoing investigations to see if these unfair practices are caused by the consolidations of the meatpackers. Four multinational companies make up 85 percent of U.S. beef processing, and 63 percent of pork processing is run by three global firms, including a Chinese-owned company.
In 2019, the Department of Justice intervened in investigating some chicken processing companies with huge profits after the number of plaintiffs increased to include the nation’s largest foodservice, retail, supermarket and consumer-packaged goods companies.
Now, similar private antitrust litigation has been filed against major pork and beef packers. While these companies deny any wrongdoing, there are some who say this was brought on by consolidation.
In the past, if wrongdoing was found to be true, companies were simply fined. Today, as with the chicken companies, there are jail sentences for company executives.
While these investigations are going on, we need to support building local meat processing plants, producers finishing more of their own beef, pork and lamb and farmers raising more grains to finish the animals. While it is a huge change, it can happen. It is a change that will not be easy nor cheap.
Our consumers want it.