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Family farm advocates: Don't go small on market reform

© iStock - monkeybusinessimpages
Mike Moen

(Greater Dakota News Service) If you've been to the supermarket lately, chances are you have noticed meat prices are higher.

Family-farm advocates say profits are not making their way to smaller cattle producers, and they urged federal lawmakers to not let up on market concentration reform.

Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle have been calling attention to the issue, concerned that four companies are able to purchase and process roughly 80% of beef in America.

Patty Lovera, policy adviser for the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment, said it is not a new problem, and while ranchers and consumers are missing out, others are not.

"Fewer companies run the middle of that food chain," Lovera pointed out. "They're getting bigger, and they have more control, and they keep more of the dollar."

At the federal level, the Biden administration recently announced a series of moves aimed at breaking up market consolidation. And several bills in Congress have been considered to address the problem.

Lovera said more urgency is needed, including immediately reinstating a requirement for meat processers to adhere to country-of-origin labeling. A key industry group has pushed back against reform, saying it will lead to unintended consequences for customers and producers.

Backers of reform noted prior to relaxed regulations, ranchers were paid much higher prices per animal, but they observed it has dramatically declined since 2015, with more imported meat being sold in stores.

Nick Nemec, a cattle producer in central South Dakota, said the lack of a viable market has made it harder for younger generations of his family to turn a profit. 

"My daughter and son-in-law, who've been ranching with me now for six years, and [they] have kind of struggled to make ends meet because of cattle prices," Nemec stated.

Nemec added he has been able to help them see through the lean years, but he fears other younger producers without family ties to farming might not be as lucky.

The renewed calls for action follow a recent White House report showing the larger meat processing companies are recording massive profits amid inflation issues in the economy. Industry leaders argue they are being made scapegoats by the situation.