Pandemic Profiteering Raising Meat Prices? You Better Believe It!

Have you been confused about the rising inflation rate and wondering when this cycle is going to end and “normalcy” will return to your world? Have you just been wondering about it? Or did you figure that inflation comes and goes? And given the way things have been affected with COVID-19 it’s just no wonder that inflation came along now due to high demand and the difficulties in both getting workers and the supply chain issues? Did you just figure that is the way it is and resign yourself to it? Well there is also that other thing that is affecting you and your wallet too. It’s pandemic profiteering and it’s raising your meat prices!

Man looking at high meat prices in butcher case as a result of pandemic profiteering

Don’t Be Naïve About the Profit Motive

Profiteering is a tough subject for me personally to deal with. That’s because I spent so many years in the retail world and I’d like to think that what I always did and the companies I worked for did was to do the right thing for themselves and the consumer. I’d like to think that, but I know it’s not the truth.

I always have said that businesses basically exist to fill consumer needs and that “profit isn’t a dirty word”. Perhaps the word honest should be added into that phrase somewhere.

If truth be told, there is a long history of profit turning into profiteering and when it happens, it can even fly under the radar. The problem is that sometimes, the radar actually does pick it up and when it does, it’s ugly and makes the consumer, you and I, very angry.

Businesses sneaking in a few ways to boost profits with some shady, sneaky way around the law is fairly common (now and forever). But doing it when the world seems to be ending (like during a pandemic) is like kicking a man when he’s down. The act of pandemic profiteering is profiteering on steroids!

What We Think and What We Don’t Know???

Since the end of last year, food prices have been going up and it has been led by the prices in the meat industries, packing and meat distribution. You have seen it every week when you shop. And what you have been told repeatedly is that the pandemic has swept through the industry and caused the plants to shut down and that production shortage is the main reason that prices have been skyrocketing. That did happen and is a cause of the inflation, to some extent, then and maybe now. But is there more to the story?

The Biden Administration Is Concerned About Possible Pandemic Profiteering by Meat Processors

This week, the Biden administration said it’s concerned about possible pandemic profiteering by meat processors. There are now real concerns about the rising prices for meat, and more efforts to scrutinize the meat processors are now being supplied by the government even amid consolidation in that industry.

The processing industry in the U.S. is dominated by just four companies. These top meat processors include Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, Brazil-based JBS, China-based WH Group’s Smithfield Foods, and Minnesota-based Cargill.

About half of the overall increase in grocery prices can be attributed to the significant increase in prices in just three products, beef, pork and poultry, according to top White House economic adviser Brian Deese adding that “there has been significant consolidation within the industry as well.”

“When you see that level of consolidation and the increase in prices, it raises a concern about pandemic profiteering,” he said.

The truth seems to indicate that “companies are driving the price increases in a way that hurts consumers who are going to the grocery store, and also isn’t benefiting the actual producers, the farmers, and the ranchers that are growing the product,” either said Deese, who serves as Director of the National Economic Council.

Is Something Going to Be Done About It?

Yes is the short answer, but it gets complicated quickly. The specific actions highlighted by the administration include crackdowns on illegal price fixing and enforcement of antitrust laws. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is conducting an ongoing joint investigation with the Justice Department into price fixing (starting in the chicken-processing industry).

The White House also said that the USDA will spend $1.4 billion for COVID-19 relief to small producers, processors, distributors, farmers markets, workers, and others impacted by COVID-19.

In addition, the White House said it’s working with Congress to make cattle markets more transparent and fairer, and it will expand the USDA’s Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program.

New Legislation Can Help But What About Right Now?

New legislation to be introduced in congress would require more disclosure of the prices meatpackers are paying private contractors. That may give independent livestock producers a better sense of what meatpackers are willing to pay for cattle, hogs, and poultry. But as we all know, this will be a slow moving process.

For now though, simply shining a bright light on these profiteering companies may be enough to stop this effort of boosting profits on the back of a world-wide pandemic.

The new focus on meat processors comes after President Biden two months ago signed an executive order aimed at big business, with the much-anticipated measure targeting industries such as meat processing.

What Can You Learn From All of This?

According to the National Meat Institute, consumers are paying higher prices for beef, pork, chicken, and eggs because of a “persistent and widespread shortage” of workers in meatpacking plants. That’s what was said, is said, and continues to be said in explanation of it all and it’s what we all seem to “want” to believe. Certainly we don’t want to believe that it’s all just some scheme to take advantage of us all, do we?

But what can we do and is there something to learn here?

There is a reason to be a smart shopper other that just because I asked you to be one. Smart shoppers can pressure business to be more competitive and responsible by their powers of influence.

Actions You Can Take Right Now!

If you as a consumer don’t show any displeasure about business practices (in this case the prices you pay for meat), then all the parts of the chain will just pass on the costs to you and they all win while you suffer.

What you can do right now is to make sure you know your prices and shop around for the biggest cost of your weekly groceries, the protein/meat portions. Keep track of the price cycles and comparison shop, use every way you know and I have suggested to save money when you shop. Buy when you get the best deal only.

Alternative Choices

What else can you do? Find alternatives to the proteins that are so costly! Healthy, hearty alternatives to meat are out there and they’re better for our environment too. Try plant-based proteins. They all absorb the flavor of whatever you cook them in, making them extremely versatile. You can try:

Mushrooms

Earthy, umami-rich fungi; white button and Portobello are easy to find in markets. Use them grilled for sandwiches and salads, stuffed with cheese, sautéed for pastas.

Tempeh

Cooked and fermented soybeans formed into a cake; nutty and chewy. Use them sliced to replace bacon (in BLTs), or crumbled like ground beef (for tacos).

Seitan

Vegan protein made from wheat gluten and water. Use marinated and baked in slices, breaded and fried in strips, or grilled on kebabs. Just watch out for high sodium content in packaged versions.

Jackfruit

A large green fruit with spiky skin, it adds a meaty texture. Use barbecued like pulled pork for sandwiches; chili; Asian-inspired dishes. Buy it canned (packaged in water); the skin can be tough to cut.

Tofu

Condensed soy milk pressed into white blocks; bland flavor on its own. Use in lieu of eggs in breakfast scrambles; in stir-fries or smoothies. First, press out water with paper towels; next, marinate tofu as called for in a recipe.

Beans

Variety of beans with good protein content. Season red beans with rice or in meatless chili. Watch out for sodium content in canned beans, or cook dry beans (no soaking necessary).

Final Thoughts

Being healthy and being a good consumer/shopper go hand in hand, especially during a pandemic.

I think that as you learn and grow, you lose the idea that you can’t effect changes on your own and you are just a victim in the big scheme of things here at the hands of big corporations. You don’t have to be one. Take small steps and the collective consumer power you wield can foster changes. The bad guys don’t have to win all the time.

Are you a smart shopper and can you be an even better one? Can you try alternatives to meat protein at least once or twice a week? Have you been squeezed by the inflation of your grocery bill this year? Are you surprised to learn that pandemic profiteering is a real thing?

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