White House to invest $1 billion to boost competition in meat-processing industry and lower consumer prices

President Joe Biden on Monday will meet virtually with family and independent farmers and ranchers to discuss his administration’s plan to create “a more competitive, fair, resilient meat and poultry sector,” according to the White House. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will also attend the meeting.

The announcement comes as food prices — particularly for beef — skyrocket and inflation remains a top concern of the White House. Persistent global supply chain issues and the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 threaten to prolong these rising prices.

“Over the last few decades, we’ve seen too many industries become dominated by a handful of large companies that control most of the business and most of the opportunities — raising prices and decreasing options for American families, while also squeezing out small businesses and entrepreneurs,” the White House said.

Beef prices in November were up 20.9% from a year earlier, according to the US Department of Labor, and grocery prices jumped 6.4%, which is the largest 12-month increase since December 2008. Consumer price inflation, which includes gas prices and other categories, rose by 6.8% in the 12-month period ending in November, hitting its highest level in 39 years.

As part of the plan, the US Department of Agriculture will provide up to $375 million in grants for independent processing plant projects, $275 million in partnership with lenders to provide loans and other support to businesses to increase access to capital, $100 million for workforce training, $50 million for technical assistance and research and development and $100 million to reduce overtime inspection costs to help smaller processing plants.

The funding will be allocated from the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 emergency relief bill that Congress passed last year.

This year, the Biden administration says it will issue stronger rules to combat abuses by meatpackers and processors, and issue new labeling rules so that consumers “can better understand where their meat comes from,” the White House says.

The Department of Justice and the USDA are also announcing a joint initiative to coordinate their efforts and will launch a new portal for reporting concerns about potential violations of competition laws within 30 days, the White House says.