Right now, there are millions of meat-producing farms across the country. A majority of those are independent farmers and ranchers. However, there’s a good chance that you’ll never see one of their brands in your local supermarket. This is because a handful of massive corporations control the vast majority of the meat industry. Whether it’s beef, pork, or chicken, the major corporations are slowly pushing smaller farmers and ranchers out of business.
In recent months, the Biden Administration promised to help independent ranchers. The president attempted to address the anti-competitive behavior in the meat industry with an executive order in July of 2021. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, said they hope to improve farm income, give consumers more choices by widening the market, and build a more resilient food system. However, small meat producers say they aren’t seeing the benefits. In short, the government isn’t doing enough to regulate the meat market.
We’ve seen the government step in and break up large companies that held a monopoly on an industry. For instance, the government launched antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft to limit its monopoly. Independent ranchers hope to see them take similar action in the meat industry.
Tim Gibbons works with the Missouri Rural Crisis center. He spoke to The Hill about the problems that independent ranchers face in the current meat industry. Overall, Gibbons said, “We want to bring some semblance of competition back to the cattle market.” He went on to discuss how hard things are in his state. “Missouri has 50,000 cattle producers,” he said. However, he said that four major companies control 80 percent of the beef packing in the state. About the effects of Biden’s actions in the industry, Gibbons said, “nothing has changed.”
A Major Change Independent Ranchers Want to See
An Obama-era policy changed regulations for labeling meat. It allowed meatpackers to mark their beef as “Product of USA” as long as the meat is processed in the United States. The cattle can be raised anywhere. Independent ranchers and some lawmakers want to see this policy repealed. Darvin Bentlage, a Missouri rancher, explained the issue behind the law. “That pound of ground beef may say ‘Made in the USA’ but it could be from five or six countries.”
Major Corporations are Pushing Smaller Operations Out
The Hill reports that Missouri has seen a major drop in independent farmers and ranchers. In 1985, the state boasted 23,000 hog producers. By 2015, that number was down to 2,600. Tim Gibbons spoke on this as well. “That wasn’t because 20,000 people decided to get out. Corporations took over the marketplace, production, and processing and put all those family farmers out of business.”
Meatpacking companies like Tyson, Cargill, Smithfield, and JBS control the bulk of the protein market. As a result, they have plenty of money to fund lobbyists that help shape policy. As a result, they can fight regulations that would create a fair marketplace for independent ranchers. Additionally, those major corporations control what the American people can purchase.