President Biden Calls Out Big Four Meat Packing Giants in State of the Union

Statement by Ricardo Salvador, Director, Food and Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Mar 2, 2022

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In last night’s State of the Union address, President Biden called out anticompetitive behavior by the “Big Four” meatpackers and processors who have engaged in pandemic profiteering, raising prices for consumers while bringing in record profit, increasing payouts to shareholders and raising executive pay.

The “Big Four” meat processors – JBS, Cargill, National Beef Packing, and Tyson Foods – currently control about 85% of U.S. beef market and over half of U.S. poultry. As President Biden said in his address, under the current system, “You play with them, or you don’t get to play at all. And you have to pay a hell of a lot more.”

UCS research shows that in states like Arkansas, just four companies control 87% of poultry processing sales. One of those companies is Tyson Foods, which controls 67% of all poultry processing in the state. In half of Arkansas counties with integrated processing, Tyson is the only player in town.

Farmers, workers and consumers have alleged large processors use their power to advance corporate interests, at the expense of everyone else.

Below is a statement by Dr. Ricardo Salvador, director of the Food and Environment Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“As the president said, capitalism without competition is exploitation, and that is what we are seeing. While prices are rising, farmers and ranchers are not seeing their share of the consumer dollar increase. After bearing some of the worst of the pandemic, wages for workers in meat and poultry processing plants have risen only slightly. Consumers are not simply being asked to bear the cost of inflation – they are being asked to pad corporate profits, executive compensation and shareholder payouts.

“Big processors are reporting record profits. Tyson Foods grossed $3 billion in 2021, up 48% over 2020. The corporation’s shareholder payouts also were up and executive pay, for its chairman and two CEOs combined, surpassed $37 million in 2021. If corporations are truly not profiteering, they are doing it badly.

“The USDA’s efforts to empower farmers to call out bad behavior and to spur competition by supporting new and emerging small and medium-sized processors are a good start.

“But federal regulators at the Agriculture Department and Department of Justice need to take bold action to break the monopoly power of companies like Tyson Foods. That means taking action to ensure companies like Tyson do not further consolidate power through new mergers and acquisitions; creating and enforcing new rules to protect producers; and pursuing stronger enforcement to shut down anticompetitive behavior like price fixing and exploitative contracts.”