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Sen. Josh Hawley calls for investigation of meatpacking industry

The coronavirus pandemic is exposing many flaws in the nation’s supply chain for essential items such as food. Sen Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to begin an antitrust investigation into the nation’s meatpacking industry.

Four companies process 85 percent of all U.S. beef, he said. “Right now the meatpacking industry has become too consolidated,” he said. “We’ve got just one or two or three companies who control the whole thing.”

Hawley said Missouri farmers and ranchers have approached him, especially in recent months, saying they are desperate to have more options when it comes to selling their livestock. Hawley serves on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is the U.S. Senate’s chief oversight committee. He is calling on the FTC to “ask probing questions about the major meatpacking firms’ conduct, pricing and conduct.”

He and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) wrote a letter to the FTC saying that the closing of three pork pants because of COVID-19 has resulted in the “shutdown of a staggering 15 percent of America’s pork production.”

“This market consolidation has led to the increased concentration of meat production in just a handful of plants,” the letter said. “For instance, over the last several decades, the number of slaughterhouses processing more than one million hogs annually has more than doubled: among those slaughterhouses processing more than 50,000 hogs every year, Ninety percent are these ‘mega-slaughterhouses.’ Cattle slaughterhouses have also seen increased concentration, with the average number of cattle slaughtered per plant doubling between 1976 and 2006.”

Hawley and Baldwin said the concentration has undermined the stability of America’s meat supply and is an issue of national security.