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ND Cattle Farmers Amplify Calls for Fair Market Policies

Suspicions of price-fixing within the beef industry have been around for years but have intensified in 2020, leading to federal investigations. (Adobe Stock)
Suspicions of price-fixing within the beef industry have been around for years but have intensified in 2020, leading to federal investigations. (Adobe Stock)
July 16, 2020

DRAKE, N.D. - Calls are growing louder for changes within the beef industry to create fairness for farmers and ranchers struggling to compete with larger operations. A group of producers in North Dakota says it has solutions for policymakers to consider.

This week, a livestock committee with the North Dakota Farmers Union approved a series of recommendations that range from breaking up consolidated meat-processing firms to reinstatement of country-of-origin labeling. Committee member and cattle farmer Travis Bruner says they want to feel like they're not being shut out by a system working against them.

"We feel like there is neglect being had towards the producers," says Bruner. "And it's all going in advantage of the packing plants and the large corporations. "

Industry observers say 80% of beef processing in the U.S. is controlled by the four largest companies, and producers say that creates lower prices for what they sell. It's resulted in demands from farm groups and various lawmakers to expand current anti-trust investigations.

The North American Meat Institute has pledged transparency in light of concerns raised over price issues. But farmers like Bruner say more accountability is needed, while adding that current conditions have created cash-flow issues for him and his family.

Bruner says a key component of a fair market would be increasing capacity for local and regional meat slaughter facilities.

"You spread the slaughtering out amongst multiple facilities," says Bruner. "Not only will that create a better supply and more even supply, it's gonna create some demand. And then this price thing will follow through to be a little more true to what it should be."

Producers say the larger companies use situations such as the pandemic, along with a 2019 Kansas plant fire, as an excuse for paying even less for livestock, while driving up costs for consumers.

Last month, the Justice Department subpoenaed the nation's four largest beef processors. That came on the heels of indictments against several poultry executives over price-fixing concerns.

Disclosure: North Dakota Farmers Union contributes to our fund for reporting on Rural/Farming. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND