May 26, 2020 - Health

U.S. government investigating meatpacking industry over soaring beef prices

Meat in grocery shelf.

Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

The Departments of Justice is investigating allegations that the meatpacking industry is fixing or manipulating prices, a person familiar with the investigation told Axios on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The investigation follows a surge in meat prices after outbreaks in a number of processing plants led to closures in more than a dozen states. But processors have been paying farmers and ranchers extremely low prices for their cattle, according to Politico, which first reported on the investigation.

  • The DOJ will probe the so-called "big four" meat producers who together make up about 85% of the U.S. market Tyson Foods, JBS, National Beef and Cargill.
  • The Department of Agriculture is also reviewing meat price fluctuations, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Politico.

The big picture: The industry has long been a target of antitrust scrutiny. But the coronavirus crisis is "highlighting how the American system of getting meat to the table favors a handful of giant companies despite a century of government efforts to decentralize it," Politico writes.

Go deeper