Meatpackers and some Republicans pushed back last week against the sense shared by President Biden and folks buying groceries that the Big Meat monopolists, just like our other corporate overlords, are rigging the market to inflate their profits.
The CEOs and corporatist donation-takers are blowing smoke. Check out the chicken industry, where market concentration impoverishes farmers:
The National Chicken Council—the trade association for chicken companies—reported that farmers’ pay per pound of chicken decreased 3 percent between 1990 and 2020 when adjusted for inflation. Chicken farmers we’ve talked to say they gross about 24 cents for each four-pound bird they raise. That paltry amount has to cover labor, maintenance, fuel, electricity, and other overhead costs. Several contract chicken farmers have gone so far as to sue large poultry producers citing unfair, predatory, and anti-competitive behavior. Last year, Tyson and Perdue agreed to a $35 million settlement to a lawsuit alleging that the companies have pushed farmers into debt and locked in their compensation at unprofitably low rates.
So, what’s really going on here? It boils down to the concentration of the chicken industry and its reliance on the contract farming model. Just four companies—JBS (Pilgrim’s Pride), Tyson, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms—comprise more than half the U.S. chicken market. This concentration of power has allowed the companies to squeeze both the farmers and consumers to maximize their profits [Patti Anderson and Mike Weaver, “Monopolies Are Giving Chicken Farmers a Raw Deal. We’re Urging States to Act,” Civil Eats, 2022.05.02].
Maybe it’s time for the chicken man to go on strike.