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

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Courtesy: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

(CNN) — The White House on Monday announced it would allocate $1 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan to independent meat and poultry producers as part of an effort to boost competition in the meat-processing industry and lower prices for consumers.

US President Joe Biden met virtually with family and independent farmers and ranchers on Monday to discuss the administration's new four-part plan.

"Farmers and ranchers are being driven out of business -- sometimes businesses that have been around for generations," Biden said during the meeting at the White House. "It strikes at their dignity, their respect and the family legacy so many of them carried for generations after generation."

The President largely blamed price hikes on market distortion caused by international meat-processing conglomerates.

"While (the four major meat-processing companies') profits go up, the prices you see at the grocery stores go up commensurate. The prices farmers receive for the products that they are bringing to market go down. This reflects the market being distorted by lack of competition," Biden said. "I've said it before and I'll say it again: Capitalism without competition isn't capitalism. It's exploitation. That's what we're seeing in the meat and poultry ... industries now."

Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also attended 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.

Biden on Monday blamed the Trump administration for weakening the Packers and Stockyards Act. That weakening of the law, Biden said, made "it possible for the abuse we're seeing now."

"We're going to strengthen the law to make sure it works as intended," he added.

The Department of Justice and the USDA also announced 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 joint channel that we are establishing will allow USDA and DOJ to collaborate, early on, on how to appropriately address such complaints where complaints relate to antitrust violations," Garland said during Monday's White House event.

After the plan was announced, the US Chamber of Commerce said in a statement on Monday it objected to what it called "misguided" efforts by the administration to combat high meat prices.

"It is pretty clear that the administration is attempting to use higher prices to justify their preexisting agenda to overturn decades of bipartisan consensus around antitrust and competition policy in favor of a 'government-knows-best' regulatory approach," Neil Bradley, the Chamber's chief policy officer, said in the statement.

Bradley added: "That isn't economics, it is politics and sadly, such government intervention would likely further constrain supply and push prices even higher."

This story was first published on CNN.com, "White House investing $1 billion to boost competition in meat-processing industry and lower consumer prices."