Illinois meat store responds to Biden admin accusing producers of illegally fixing prices

White House wants to tame high meat prices

FOX Business’ Jeff Flock reports on how consumers have been affected by rising meat prices. 

The owner of an Illinois retail and wholesale meat store told FOX Business he has been increasing prices for his products as the industry grapples with higher raw material costs, global supply chain challenges and a rebound in demand. 

This as the Biden administration announced it plans to take a tougher stance toward meatpacking companies the White House argues are causing higher prices for meat at grocery stores.

Richard Whittingham, the owner of R. Whittingham & Sons Meat Co., told Jeff Flock during an interview on "Cavuto: Coast to Coast" on Thursday that he doesn’t blame the processors for the spike in prices, but acknowledged that "competition never hurts anybody," noting that "that is what built our country."

In a Wednesday blog post, President Biden’s top aides blamed the four companies that control much of the meat processing market in the U.S. for the price spikes. 

In the post, the aides acknowledged that "factors like increased consumer demand have played a role" in higher prices, but argued that "the price increases are also driven by a lack of competition at a key bottleneck point in the meat supply chain: meat-processing." 

The aides wrote that "Just four large conglomerates control the majority of the market for each of these three products, and the data show that these companies have been raising prices while generating record profits during the pandemic." 

The post pointed to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which noted that just four firms "control approximately 55-85% of the market" for beef, pork, and poultry, pointing out that the figure reflects "dramatic consolidation of the industry" over the last 50 years. 

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"In 1977, the largest four beef-packing firms controlled just 25% of the market, compared to 82% today," the aides noted. "In poultry, the top four processing firms controlled 35% of the market in 1986, compared to 54% today. And in pork, the top four hog-processing firms controlled 33% of the market in 1976, compared to 66% today."

Whittingham told Flock on Thursday that his choices to buy meat "are not the same." 

"We used to have a lot more choices back in the day," he continued. 

The blog post noted that the Biden administration plans to take "bold action to enforce the antitrust laws, boost competition in meat-processing, and push back on pandemic profiteering that is hurting consumers, farmers, and ranchers across the country."

In an effort to target the issue, the USDA plans to allocate $1.4 billion in pandemic assistance in an effort to "provide relief to small producers, processors, distributors, farmers markets, seafood processors, and food and farm workers impacted by COVID-19." The aides also said the administration will take action to "crack down on illegal price fixing" and will work with Congress "to make cattle markets more transparent and fairer."  

Whittingham said prices for meat at his store have increased, noting that "usually we charge anywhere from $12.95 to 14.95 for prime product, but right now it is up in the 20s because of supply." 

He told Flock that he hopes prices won’t increase further. 

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"I thought we were at the top a while ago," Whittingham said. "As things came down they shot right back up again." 

He stressed that prices are hard to predict. 

"All bets are off," Whittingham said.

A White House official acknowledged that the increased cost of packaging has impacted food prices, but told FOX Business that it only makes up a small fraction of the price increases. The official noted that more than half of the price hikes of food are attributable to meat products and that the price of those products rose by nearly 9% since the beginning of the year, much higher than other food products. 

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FOX Business’ Edward Lawrence contributed to this report.

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