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Donald Trump is launching what reports have branded the ‘biggest attack in centuries‘ on the giants of the U.S. meat industry.

The Department of Justice is launching a probe into beef companies, following beef prices almost doubling earlier this year, after more than 20 slaughterhouses across the U.S. were forced to shutter due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Bloomberg reports that ‘regulators are also scrutinizing potential price manipulation, and on Capitol Hill, lawmakers are clamoring for a crackdown’, adding that ‘farmers have long complained about the dominance of just a handful of companies in beef and poultry markets, but antitrust enforcers haven’t before taken significant action against the companies’.

Antitrust laws

The probe follows reports that while consumers were paying these staggeringly high prices for meat, meat packing giants were extremely low prices to ranchers and farmers.

The probe will investigate whether these meatpacking companies are manipulating prices. If so, they could be violating antitrust laws – aka competition laws – statutes developed by the U.S. government. They were put in place to protect consumers by ensuring that fair competition exists in an open-market economy

If the probe uncovers a violation of antitrust laws by meatpackers, the Justice Department has multiple options in how to respond: either suing companies or negotiating a settlement. But, as news outlets note, the investigation could also close without further action.

‘Broken’

Ben Gotschall is interim executive director for the Organization for Competitive Markets, which advocates against consolidation in agriculture.

He told Bloomberg: “The market’s been broken for a long time, and the pandemic has just made it worse. Meatpackers are making record profits, and the ranchers are going out of business. 

“Whatever Trump’s motivation might be, if he does the right thing you have to take it. I hope it’s more than just lip service.”

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