Updated Jun 28, 2021 - News

Rising beef prices frustrate Iowa ranchers and restaurant owners

Illustration of a piece of tiny meat in a large styrofoam package.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Shoppers and restaurant owners are paying higher beef prices, but meatpacking companies appear to be the only ones reaping benefits, the New York Times reports.

State of play: Beef and veal prices are up more than 3% from a year ago, according to the latest government data.

  • COVID-19 plant closures, dry hay conditions for cattle and the recent JBS ransomware attack hurt our livestock supply for years to come, Axios' Courtenay Brown reports.

What they're saying: Cattle ranchers and some grocery stores point to meatpacking giants Cargill, JBS, Tyson Foods and National Beef as those profiting off manipulating prices.

  • "The frustration for producers like myself is that you're looking at a situation where demand for beef, domestically and globally, has never been this good," Brad Kooima, a rancher in Rock Valley, Iowa, told the Times. "And we’re not making any money."

Zoom in: At Smokey D's BBQ in Des Moines, owner Darren Warth says he prides himself on affordable menu items. But wholesale brisket prices have doubled, costing him thousands more a month.

  • Brisket is $18.99 a pound at his restaurant. To break even, he would have to charge $38.99.
  • Instead, he's stopped selling flats and serves chopped brisket instead to save money.
  • "Nobody's going to pay $39 for a pound of brisket," Warth told Linh. "I'm not going to pay that and personally, I'm not going to try and sell it that way."

What's next: Congressional members have called for investigations into meatpacking plant pricing over the last year.

  • The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held a hearing last Wednesday on cattle market pricing and transparency. Sen. Chuck Grassley and others called for breaking up the control held by the country's four major meatpackers, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.
  • Watch what else was discussed here.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry hearing took place last Wednesday on June 23, 2021, not this Wednesday.


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