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Feds move to increase meatpacking competition, lower consumer prices

branex -

With the election approaching, the Biden administration has announced millions of dollars in grants Wednesday to diversify the meat-processing industry, an effort to improve competition, help livestock producers and bring down consumer prices.

It follows a push for more antitrust efforts made by a group of state attorneys general, including California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who wrote the USDA last December.

Bonnie Haugen, a Minnesota dairy farmer and member of the Land Stewardship Project, said state attorney generals can make a big dent in the problem.

"They can look at companies that have too much power or are charging people wrong, and it's important to have a state attorney who is willing to not just look at stuff but actually follow through and do something, rather than turn and look the other way," Haugen said.

Cargill and Tyson, two of the nation's largest meat-processing companies, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A recent report from Food and Water Watch Food and Water Watch found the top four processing companies control 83% of the market for beef, 66% of the market for hogs and 51% of the market for broiler chickens.

Joaquin Contente, president of the California Farmers Union, and a dairy farmer, said many farmers have left the business because they can't get a fair price from big agribusiness companies - so he would like state and federal authorities to step in and foster more competition.

"We seem to be going in the wrong direction," Contente said. "And we have less and less antitrust enforcement. And if there is anything to be done, it should be done right away, whether it's in the beef or chicken or the pork industry."

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show as of last year, this country had more than two million farms, down from 2.2 million in 2007, and down drastically from a high of 6.9 million back in 1935.

Suzanne Potter