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Supervisor calls on White House to aid small butchers, stop alleged ‘price fixing’

The soaring price of meat is hitting Bay Area residents square in their pocketbooks, and a San Mateo County supervisor Saturday asked the president to help small local butchers and stop alleged “price fixing” by large meat packers in hopes of lowering prices.

At a news conference at Save More Meats in Pacifica, San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President David Canepa said:

“I am urging (President Joe Biden) to level the playing field by providing stimulus to smaller meat producers and address what his administration calls ‘illegal price fixing’ (by large meat packers).” 

Canepa also said he encourages consumers to check out local butcher shops, which may have lower prices because many sell more locally sourced meat.

Between May and June 2021, the price of beef rose by 4.5 percent nationally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Prices for beef have risen by a whopping 14 percent since 2020, according to top Biden aides in a White House blog post Wednesday. Pork has risen 12.1 percent and poultry by 6.6 percent during that period of time. The Biden aides said:

“Together, these three items account for a full half of the price increases (at grocery stores) since December 2020.” 

Four companies control much of the U.S. meat processing market, and the aides blamed those companies — JBS, Tyson Foods, National Beef Packing Company and Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. — for rising food prices.

Ribeye steak costs $24.99 a pound at Safeway on Webster Street in San Francisco. It’s $19.99 a pound at family-owned Save More Meats in Pacifica.

Matthew Lee, who owns the store with his brother Kevin, said:

“We have regular customers who have been coming here 20 years or more. They’re like members of the family.”

The brothers both live in Pacifica and have been serving friends and neighbors at the store since 1985.

Save More Meats purchases its meat from Harris Ranch, a Selma, Calif.-based cattle finishing facility. Canepa wants the president to give stimulus money to purveyors like Harris.

Canepa said:

“The administration would be able to give them an influx of capital and that capital could be used for investment — the purchase of more cattle, more equipment — so they could in turn gain additional market share.” 

The supervisor added:

“This gives them the ability to potentially compete at a greater scale, so we’re not solely dependent on just those four, Tyson, Cargill and the two other beef producers. It gives (producers like Harris) the potential to compete with the hope we can lower the price of beef.” 

As part of a set of initiatives, the administration will invest $1.4 billion in Covid-19 pandemic stimulus money to small meat producers and workers, administration aides said in the blog post. Canepa said he wants the administration to “double down.”

Tyson Foods Wednesday issued a statement categorically rejecting what the company characterized as the White House’s conclusions. The statement was made in response to a Wednesday White House press briefing by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Director of the National Economic Council in a White House press briefing.

Tyson noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently published a report detailing the drivers of consumer inflation in the food sector, none of which, Tyson said, are related to industry consolidation or scale.

The increase in beef prices is due to unprecedented market conditions, Tyson said.

Tyson said:

“Multiple, unprecedented market shocks, including a global pandemic and severe weather conditions, led to an unexpected and drastic drop in meat processors’ abilities to operate at full capacity. … This led to an oversupply of live cattle and an undersupply of beef, while demand for beef products was at an all-time high. So, as a result, the price for cattle fell, while the price for beef rose. Today, prices paid to cattle producers are rising.” 

Labor shortages are also affecting the nation’s beef, pork and poultry supplies, Tyson said.

Calls and emails to JBS and National Beef Packing Company were not immediately returned. The remaining company, Cargill Meat Solutions Corp., had no comment.

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