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Last year, meat prices for Americans rose 15 percent – meaning they have higher prices for grill, smoke and barbecue beef this summer.

This is not the fault of American ranchers and certainly not the fault of truck drivers who work overtime to move meat to the supermarket. A wide range of factors are contributing to the rise in prices – but one factor is facing us: integration in the meat packing industry.

The four largest meat packers are making record profits, but the average cattle producer’s share of the retail value of beef has fallen: from more than 50 cents on the dollar in 2015 to less than 37 cents on the dollar last year. This loss means that many ranchers will have to close their operations – leaving behind a lifestyle that has been frequent in their family for generations. Since 1980, 40 percent of US livestock producers have left the business, and consolidation in the meat packing industry has grown by more than 80 percent.

Meanwhile, Kargil reported the biggest gains in its 156-year history. Tyson doubled its profit in the last quarter and doubled National Beef’s profits in the third quarter of 2021. We see the textbook that multinational corporations are tearing apart hard-working Americans.

Meat prices have skyrocketed, but profits for smaller meat producers have also been high.  Image: A customer shopping for meat at the Sam's Club Store, a division of Wal-Mart stores in Bentonville, Arkansas.  REUTERS / Jessica Rinaldi

Meat prices have skyrocketed, but profits for smaller meat producers have also been high. Image: A customer shopping for meat at the Sam’s Club Store, a division of Wal-Mart stores in Bentonville, Arkansas. REUTERS / Jessica Rinaldi
(REUTERS / Jessica Rinaldi)

But consolidation in the meat industry is not just about affecting beef prices and boxing farm families from success – it also poses a real threat to American national security. If current trends continue, in the not-too-distant future, Americans will rely on foreign-owned companies to support their families.

Last year, we saw how a cyber-attack against JBS, a Brazilian-owned major processor, jeopardized the nation’s meat and poultry supply chain. When JBS slaughterhouses were taken offline, our country’s meat supply was pushed in days of uncertainty. Within minutes, we saw the vulnerabilities of integration.

And through all of this, JBS’s US beef division achieved record net revenues – an increase of 101 percent in 2021. Yet it has done very little to hold them accountable for leaving the industry so vulnerable. What happens when another major processor encounters a more powerful cyber attack?

We come to this issue from two different backgrounds. One of us is a former federal law enforcement officer and CIA case officer, and one of us is a fourth-generation Angus cattle breeder. As Virginians who care about the families, producers and customers we represent, we both agree that we need a referee on the field – someone who can whistle on illegal, anti-competitive or fraudulent activity.

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It begins with enforcing laws on books.

The US House is examining the “Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act” – the bipartisan law I (Congresswoman Sponberger) is proud to introduce and the law I (US Cattlemen’s Association President Miller) is proud to approve.

The “Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act” establishes the office of the Special Investigator in the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate violations of our current antitrust laws in the meat industry. This team is not toothless – they have access to researchers with real power, including subpones and litigation. Through these tools, the USDA has great potential to secure our nation’s food supply, combat illegal and monopolistic consolidation practices, and hold these large processors accountable.

This bill is not about adding heavy provisions, some are wrongly accusing – it is following the rule of law. And if the meetpackers were subject to the law, they would have no qualms if we adopted the concept of “believe but confirm”.

The new bill will enforce antitrust regulations in the beef industry.  Image: British Blue Pedigree Beef Cattle in the Highlands.  (Photo: Wayne Hutchinson / Farm Images / Getty Images by UIG)

The new bill will enforce antitrust regulations in the beef industry. Image: British Blue Pedigree Beef Cattle in the Highlands. (Photo: Wayne Hutchinson / Farm Images / Getty Images by UIG)

This idea was not created in the think tank. Instead, it echoes what small livestock producers have been wanting for 100 years.

Since the enactment of the “Packers and Stockyards Act” – the 1921 law was intended to prevent price manipulation and to prevent monopolies from manipulating livestock markets and imposing unjustly high costs on the American people – producers have sought justice and security. The bill finally provides the implementation mechanisms needed to fulfill the promises made to livestock breeders a century ago.

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In the US Senate, the Sense Zone Tester, Chuck Grassley and Mike Rounds are leading on the Fellow Bill. At the US House, spokeswoman Mariannet Miller-Meeks is co-leading the effort. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue.

For those of us who care deeply about American national security, this bill is a winner. For those of us who understand the challenges facing American farming families, this bill is a winner. And the winner of this bill is us who want to do everything in our power to reduce costs for American families.

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We look forward to bringing forward the “Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act” because there is nothing more American than hamburgers, free organization and competition.

Brooke Miller is president of the US Livestock Association.

Click here to read more from the representative. Abigail Sponberger