President Joe Biden meets virtually with farmers and ranchers to discuss his efforts to boost competition and reduce prices in the meat-processing industry in the South Court Auditorium in the White House complex in Washington on Monday. Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 3 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden announced Monday he will send $1 billion to independent meat and poultry producers to help them compete in a marketplace that's dominated by a handful of multinational companies.
Biden announced the measure and others intended to give small producers a "fair shake" and consumers "a fair price" at a time of soaring inflation during an online roundtable meeting with farmers and ranchers hosted from the White House.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again: Capitalism without competition isn't capitalism. It's exploitation," he said. "That's what we're seeing in meat and poultry and those industries now."
The administration says that four large meat-packing companies control 85% of the U.S. beef market, and that four processing firms have 54% of the poultry market. It also notes that four processors have 70% of the pork market.
That kind of control, Biden said, squeezes out small farmers and ranchers and hikes prices for consumers who have no recourse.
"Small, independent farmers and ranchers are being driven out of business -- sometimes businesses that have been around for generations," the president said. "It strikes at their dignity, the respect and the family legacy so many of them carried for generations after generation."
The new measures will provide help for independent companies to train workers and expand processing capacity while also providing technical assistance for small farmers and processors to comply with environmental, food safety and worker safety requirements.
They come at a time of rapid inflation in food costs. The price of meat, poultry, fish and egg jumped by 12.8% year-over-year in November, while the index for beef rose nearly 21%, according to Commerce Department -- a situation some analysts say is contributing to Biden's lagging poll numbers.
During the event, the president talked to meat producers about the challenges they have faced as large conglomerates have absorbed smaller processors. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also took part.
The White House said Biden will dedicate $1 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan to expand the processing capacity of independent firms. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Scott Blubaugh, president of the Oklahoma Farmers Union, said farmers and rural communities could retain more of the retail food dollar if they were able to process animals "on a more local level."
"For too long, we have seen the multinational meatpackers suck out all of the wealth of rural America and put it in their corporate coffers, in some cases, even overseas," he said. "We're excited about being able to have local processing done by local people and then sell directly to the consumer."
Corwin Heatwole, CEO of Farmer Focus, said his company's business model of allowing poultry farmers to handle own their flocks eliminates "farmer competition for compensation" and provides them "fair pay for their hard work."
"We believe that together will be able to continue to level the playing field for farmers and ranchers while establishing a more resilient supply network," he said.
The White House said the president will work with Congress on legislation to benefit smaller American food firms in competition with larger companies.