Coronavirus meat shortage needs to be investigated by DOJ, state attorneys general say

The attorneys general said they may take action in their own states, too

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Eleven attorneys general from western and midwestern states requested a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into accusations of anticompetitive practices by meatpacking companies.

"The U.S. beef processing market is highly concentrated, with the four largest beef processors controlling 80 percent of U.S. beef processing," the attorneys general wrote in a joint letter. "In short, with such high concentration and the threat of increasing consolidation, we have concerns that beef processors are well positioned to coordinate their behavior and create a bottleneck in the cattle industry — to the detriment of ranchers and consumers alike.

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Their request comes after the National Cattlemen's Beef Association began pressuring the federal government in April. The group alleged that the big four packing companies, Cargill, National Beef, Tyson Foods and JBS, were driving down the price of cattle and raising the price of packaged beef amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The attorneys general said they may take action in their own states, too.

A shopper looks for packaged meat at Westborn Market in Berkley, Mich., Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

"States Attorneys General are ready to support this critical endeavor and our request for DOJ action here does not suggest a lack of interest by any of our States in conducting our own inquiry to protect its local markets," they wrote.

The letter was signed by the attorneys general of North Dakota, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

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The North American Meat Institute, a trade group that represents the four companies and others, said that everyone will benefit from a transparent marketing system that ensures effective in response to questions regarding a DOJ investigation.

"We are working together with livestock organizations to ensure meatpacking and processing plants continue to operate so that our products can come to market," Julia Anna Potts, the meat institute president and CEO, said in a statement. "At the outset of this terrible pandemic, we had to switch some of our production from foodservice to retail. We are learning lessons every day in unchartered territory. "

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