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Liberal group points to meat companies as reason for higher grocery store prices

NBC News logo NBC News 9/27/2021 Teaganne Finn
© Provided by NBC News

WASHINGTON — The price of meat on grocery store shelves has become a subject of increasing debate, but one liberal group says the Covid-19 pandemic and wages aren't to blame.

Instead, the group Accountable.US found meatpackers have paid hundreds of million of dollars in penalties for price-fixing and are pointing to that as the cause.

Republicans have increasingly pointed to consumer prices and inflation as evidence that Democratic economic policies, including pumping trillions of dollars of stimulus into the economy to off set pandemic problems.

A review by Accountable.US found that biggest meat processing companies have all recently been subject to serious price-fixing lawsuits, with several already agreeing to pay at least $400 million in fines and settlements in recent years for manipulating prices, and even colluding with one another to do so.

"When meat packer CEOs are still living high on the hog after agreeing to pay $400 million in fines and settlements for manipulating prices in recent years, consumers know who to really blame for ridiculous meat prices," said Accountable.US president Kyle Herrig in a statement to NBC News.

Major meatpackers included in Accountable.US review are Smithfield Foods, JBS, National Beef Packing Company, Tyson Foods, and Cargill.

In October 2020, JB and its subsidiaries agreed to pay over $110 million to settle price-fixing allegations, according to documents compiled by Accountable.US. Tyson Foods agreed to a $221.5 million price-fixing settlement and continues to face lawsuits from major food sellers like Walmart, McDonalds and Sysco alleging price inflation.

Additionally, the review found Smithfield Foods paid $83 million to settle price-fixing allegations.

The White House addressed the issue of rising meat prices earlier this month and said it would take "strong actions" to crack down on illegal price fixing, enforce antitrust laws, and bring more transparency to the meat-processing industry. Since December 2020 prices for beef have risen by 14.0 percent, pork by 12.1 percent and poultry by 6.6 percent, according to the White House.

"Just four large conglomerates control the majority of the market for each of these three products, and the data show that these companies have been raising prices while generating record profits during the pandemic," said White House officials in a blog post.

Gross profits for some of the leading beef, poultry, and pork processors are at their highest levels in history, and the first half of 2021 were the most profitable quarters in history for some of the processors, with net income for many of these companies on pace to reach historic highs as well.

The U.S. Justice Department is conducting an ongoing joint investigation with the Agriculture Department on price-fixing in the chicken processing industry, which has already yielded a $107 million guilty plea by Pilgrim’s Pride and numerous other indictments.

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