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Sausages in a freezer at Lilac Hedge Farm.

A selection of sausages is kept frozen at Lilac Hedge Farm, a local meat farm in Massachusetts. (Photo: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

House Progressives Hail Biden Moves to Combat Meat Industry 'Price Gouging'

Rep. Pramila Jayapal said Biden should now "use this same bold, creative strategy to keep his promises and deliver" other key Democratic agenda items.

Jake Johnson

The Congressional Progressive Caucus on Tuesday joined family farm advocates in applauding President Joe Biden's new executive action plan targeting "price gouging" and other monopolistic conduct by the U.S. meat industry, which has pushed high costs onto consumers while raking in huge profits during the pandemic.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the CPC, said in a statement that throughout the public health crisis, U.S. corporations "have raked in record profits while continuing to raise prices and squeeze families, consolidating to prevent competition and increasing the burden on small businesses and consumers."

"The meat processing industry is one of the worst offenders of these monopolistic, unfair practices."

This new action is an important example of the power the Executive Branch has to provide material, immediate economic relief for families

"The meat processing industry is one of the worst offenders of these monopolistic, unfair practices, and families across America are paying for it," she added. "This new action is an important example of the power the Executive Branch has to provide material, immediate economic relief for families."

Titled the "Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain," the president's newly announced strategy includes a number of proposed changes aimed at combating excessive consolidation in an industry dominated by just a handful of corporate giants.

"Four giant companies control 85% of the market for meat—raking in massive profits while families pay higher prices," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted Monday. "I'm glad President Biden is taking steps to create a more competitive beef and poultry industry. We need to break up Big Ag and lower prices."

Among the initiatives Biden announced during a virtual meeting with family and independent farmers and ranchers on Monday was a plan to allocate $1 billion toward an expansion of independent meat and poultry processing capacity, a move the White House hopes will promote competition in the highly concentrated industry.

The White House also said it will strengthen product-labeling rules, "work to increase transparency in cattle markets so that ranchers can get a fair price for their work," and bolster worker protections.

"Right now, meatpackers have outsized power in setting the prices for beef," the White House noted Monday. "The dominance of opaque contracts and insufficient competition undermine price discovery and fairness in the independent livestock markets, which ultimately lock producers into prices that aren't the product of free and fair negotiation."

During his remarks at Monday's roundtable meeting, Biden echoed an argument advanced by a number of progressive analysts and commentators in recent days: Corporate concentration and greed are major culprits behind prices.

"In too many industries, a handful of giant companies dominate the market," the president said. "And too often, they use their power to squeeze out smaller competitors and stifle new entrepreneurs, making our economy less dynamic and giving themselves free rein to raise prices, reduce options for consumers, or exploit workers."

"The meat industry," he added, "is a textbook example on the price side."

Barry Lynn, executive director of the Open Markets Institute said Monday that Biden's "support for building a more diversified and resilient meat-processing system is powerful news for food security in this country and for every person concerned about inflation."

"It's long overdue that our leaders support America's small- and medium-sized, independent ranchers, farmers, and farmworkers in their effort to take back control over our food economy from predatory monopolists," Lynn added. "We hope that today's action marks a new investment by the government in the sort of upstart, local, people-run processing firms that serve farmers and eaters and drive innovation."

Jayapal, for her part, pushed Biden to "quickly replicate" his executive action-oriented approach to tackling meat industry abuses in other sectors where corporate forces are driving up prices and exploiting consumers.

As Common Dreams reported last month, the CPC in the coming days plans to release a slate of executive actions it hopes Biden will pursue to accomplish major Democratic agenda items that are currently stalled in congressional negotiations.

"Bold executive action has the potential to directly benefit the American people by lowering healthcare costs, canceling student loans, and acting to address climate change," Jayapal said Tuesday. "President Biden has shown he is not afraid to use the power of the pen to fight monopoly power; he should now use this same bold, creative strategy to keep his promises and deliver the agenda that more than 81 million people voted for."

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