With the planned closure of two Tyson Foods poultry plants fresh on people’s minds, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, on September 14 introduced the Strengthening Antitrust Enforcement for Meatpacking Act.
Hawley said the bill is intended to empower antitrust enforcers to break up giant meatpacking and poultry monopolies and place power back in the hands of Missouri's farmers and workers.
"Today's meatpacking monopolists are making massive profits while shutting down competition," Hawley stated. "Congress must give antitrust prosecutors the power to end anti-competitive behavior without lengthy court battles. It’s time to hold monopolies accountable and empower farmers."
In a press release to which Hawley mentions the bill, Missouri’s junior senator referred to how one company he has described as a monopolistic company – Tyson Foods – recently announced it was closing two poultry plants in the state he represents. One of those plants is in Dexter, while the other is in Noel. Both are slated for closure during the first half of Tyson’s 2024 fiscal year, as are Tyson’s poultry plants in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and Corydon, Indiana.
Hawley’s press release stated that the two Missouri closures will mean the loss of more than 2,000 jobs. Earlier reports showed that the Noel plant employed 1,513 and the Dexter plant employed 683.
What’s in the bill?
According to Hawley, The Strengthening Antitrust Enforcement for Meatpacking Act, among other things, would:
- Amend the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 to establish specific thresholds for market concentration, allowing federal antitrust authorities to more effectively prohibit or unwind acquisitions that concentrate the meatpacking sector.
- Deter further meatpacking concentration by disincentivizing entrenched meatpacking interests from buying up more competitors.
- Put more power back in the hands of farmers and workers.
While Hawley, who is seeking re-election to the Senate in 2024, mentioned Tyson Foods in his press release, he did not mention Tyson or any other company in the text of the bill.
Hawley’s concern with Tyson, industry consolidation has a history
The introduction of this bill is not the first time Hawley has expressed worries about industry consolidation and potential anticompetitive behavior on behalf of the large meat and poultry companies.
In 2000, he joined Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, in writing a letter to leaders of the Federal Trade Commission, urging them to “investigate the growing concentration in the meatpacking and processing industry, and any anticompetitive behavior resulting from this concentration."
In the letter, the duo calls out Tyson Foods twice, saying it is one of four companies that processes 85% of U.S. beef and one of three companies that processes 63% of U.S. pork.
Other congressional concerns about industry
Concentration in the meat and poultry industry has been a recurring theme in the Senate and House of Representatives in recent years.
Here are three examples of federal legislators bringing up the topic, all in 2021:
- Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, expressed worries about the meat industry being too concentrated, following a cyberattack on JBS, which he said “processes more than 20 percent of cattle, more than 15 percent of the pork, and a significant portion of the poultry in the United States.” Tester, who has been described as the only full-time farmer in the Senate, sought to have Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland investigate the cyberattack.
- Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that same year asked the U.S. Department of Justice to thoroughly scrutinize the then-proposed merger between Wayne Farms and Sanderson Farms, saying: “I am concerned that continued mergers and acquisitions in an already concentrated poultry industry will increase consolidation, frustrate competition and reduce marketing options. I also am concerned about the impact on consumer choice and price of poultry products.”
- Rep. Tracey Mann, R-Kansas, during a telephone town hall meeting, complained that the House Agriculture Committee was not spending enough time talking about consolidation in the meat industry. “I have a lot of concerns with the consolidation we’re having. I have a lot of concerns with the process that we’re seeing, and just how the markets seem to be out of whack,” Mann said.