Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Monday asked the Department of Justice to open an investigation into anti-competitive practices by the poultry industry as turkey prices soar ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Warren, a former Democratic presidential candidate, suggested that consumers are paying higher prices for turkey because of excessive consolidation, price-fixing and "plain old corporate greed."
"Given the apparent connection between rising poultry prices for consumers and the history of anticompetitive practices in the poultry industry, I ask that you open a broad investigation into the impact of price-fixing, wage-fixing, and consolidation in the poultry industry on consumers and farmers," Warren, D-Mass., said in a statement.
The average cost of this year's classic Thanksgiving feast has jumped more than 14% from last year's average, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual Thanksgiving dinner cost survey. That's in large part because the cost of a turkey is up nearly 24% from last year. The cost of chicken breasts, meanwhile, has jumped 26% over the past year, according to Labor Department data.
The industry has largely blamed the price spike on supply-chain disruptions and high demand for food, particularly meat.
But Warren argued that lack of competition has also contributed to the higher price tag for different types of meat. The top four processing firms control 54% of the poultry market, according to the Biden administration, up from 35% of the market in 1986.
"That reflects dramatic consolidation of the industry over the last five decades, as the large conglomerates have absorbed more and more smaller processors," the White House said recently.
The Justice Department is already investigating price-fixing among some chicken producers; in October, the department charged five major players in the chicken industry – including Tyson Foods – with conspiring to create "massive, historic price increases." Tyson as well as Perdue Foods had previously settled civil litigation by three plaintiffs who accused the companies of conspiring to keep prices artificially high.
Warren asked the Justice Department to respond by Dec. 20 with a report on how price-fixing and consolidation have contributed to higher poultry prices.
The request comes as American consumer faces the steepest prices in years, with inflation at a 31-year high. The spike has been exacerbated by soaring prices for meat and other proteins, which is up close to 12% from the previous year.