The White House took aim last week at meat processing companies for the prices of poultry, beef and pork increasing. The meat processing and products industry has already spent nearly $2.1 million on lobbying in 2021 and is on pace to match or beat its 2020 lobbying spend of $4.1 million.
Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese and other White House officials said just four firms control the majority of the meat processing market, allowing them to push higher prices on consumers while reaping record profits.
Since December 2020, the price of beef rose by 14%, pork by 12.1%, and poultry by 6.6%, contributing to over half of the higher costs consumers see at the grocery store, according to the White House.
The largest meat processing firms also spend the most on lobbying, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.
Three of these four firms have spent the most money on lobbying of all groups in the meat processing industry in the first half of 2021. Tyson Foods, JBS SA and Smithfield Foods, have consistently been among the top four lobbying spenders in the industry for several years.
The largest expenditures this year came from Tyson Foods, the world’s second largest processor of poultry, pork and beef, which spent just over $1 million through the second quarter. By comparison, the company spent $1.2 million on lobbying in all of 2020 and grew its number of lobbyists from 11 in 2020 to 17 this year.
Lobbying reports show Tyson Foods lobbying members of the House, Senate and various executive agencies on a wide variety of topics, such as food labeling, labor issues and trade and export issues.
Through the first half of 2021, WH Group, a Chinese meat conglomerate and the parent company of Smithfield Foods, spent $460,000 on lobbying and JBS SA spent $382,000. The next highest lobbying expenditures this year came from the North American Meat Institute, an industry trade group, at $80,000.
Deese wrote in the Sept. 8 White House blog that Tyson Foods and JBS SA as companies have spent record amounts on dividends for shareholders and stock buy-backs in 2020 and 2021.
“Record profits, income, and margins underscore the role that meat-processors’ dominant market position and power play in increasing meat prices,” Deese wrote.
Tyson Foods told Bloomberg News it “categorically rejects” the White House’s conclusions about the meat processing industry. The North American Meat Institute called the accusations “inflammatory” and blamed increased food prices on high consumer demand.
Cargill, a conglomerate that does business in a variety of agricultural markets, is not counted under OpenSecrets’ meat processing industry lobbying data; however, the company’s yearly lobbying expenditures have exceeded $1 million since 2008. The company spent $660,000 on lobbying in the first half of this year.
Although overall expenditures on lobbying from the meat processing industry has seen a decline since its peak in 2008, money spent on elections saw a significant increase in 2020. The industry spent over $4 million in the 2020 election, up from $1.3 million in 2018 and $1.7 million in 2016. The industry has consistently given more money to Republicans than Democrats.
Meat processing companies have faced additional scrutiny during the pandemic for their handling of COVID-19 outbreaks among workers in meat packing and processing plants.
The White House said the Department of Justice and the Department of Agriculture plan to crack down on price fixing by poultry producers and legislation to increase price transparency in the agricultural industry has received bipartisan support from Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) among others.
Support Accountability Journalism
At OpenSecrets.org we offer in-depth, money-in-politics stories in the public interest. Whether you’re reading about 2020 presidential fundraising, conflicts of interest or “dark money” influence, we produce this content with a small, but dedicated team. Every donation we receive from users like you goes directly into promoting high-quality data analysis and investigative journalism that you can trust. Please support our work and keep this resource free. Thank you.