President Joe Biden waves while boarding Air Force One at Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Del., Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, en route to Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Biden: More competition in meat industry can ease food costs

Biden: More competition in meat industry can ease food costs

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden met virtually with independent farmers and ranchers Monday to discuss initiatives to reduce food prices by increasing competition within the meat industry, part of a broader effort to show his administration is trying to combat inflation.

“Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism — it’s exploitation,” Biden said.

Higher-than-expected inflation has thwarted Biden’s agenda, hurt his public approval rating, become fodder for Republican attacks and prompted Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to cite higher prices as a reason to sideline the Democratic president’s tax, social and economic programs. In November, consumer prices rose 6.8% over the prior 12 months — a 39-year high.

On food costs, Biden is building off a July executive order that directed the Agriculture Department to more aggressively look at possible violations of the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act, which was designed to ensure fair competition and protect consumers. Meat prices have climbed 16% from a year ago, with beef prices up 20.9%.

The president said the higher prices have been the subject of frustration at his own kitchen table. His wife, Jill, was talking Sunday with her sister and a friend about a pound of hamburger meat costing $5 a pound, compared with less than $4 before the pandemic.

The administration is targeting meat processing plants, which can shape the prices paid to farmers and charged to consumers. The White House issued a fact sheet saying the top four companies control 85% of the beef market. In poultry, the biggest four processing firms control 54% of the market. And for pork, the figure is 70% for the four biggest firms.

Some industry groups are pushing back against the administration’s planned oversight of the food industry.

Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the coronavirus and higher costs for energy and labor are driving meat prices higher, not the corporate structure of the industry.

Bradley said the administration is practicing politics instead of economics and “government intervention would likely further constrain supply and push prices even higher.”

Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council, said, “This looks like a solution in search of a problem.”

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, right, accompanied by from left, Attorney General Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden, and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, speaks during a virtual meeting with family and independent farmers and ranchers at the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, to discuss work to boost competition and reduce prices in the meat-processing industry. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)