Sen. Josh Hawley is now targeting another powerful industry a day after asking Attorney General Bill Barr to open an antitrust investigation against Amazon.
The meat processing industry is consolidating power, and in the process giving the bulk of the food supply chain to a handful of conglomerates, the Missouri Republican wrote in a letter Wednesday to the Federal Trade Commission. Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin co-wrote the letter with Hawley, who asked the Department of Justice to probe Amazon over data issues.
“The domination of a select few companies in the American meatpacking industry is cause for serious concern,” they wrote before noting that Tyson Foods, Cargill, JBS S.A., and Smithfield Foods effectively own 85 percent of the meat market. President Donald Trump ordered food processing plants to remain open amid a pandemic that has killed more than 55,000 people in the United States.
“As a result, farmers cannot process their livestock—which are costly to maintain—and consumers risk seeing shortages at grocery stores, exacerbating the food insecurity that all too many Americans are currently experiencing,” they added. “These harms might have been mitigated if the meatpacking industry was less concentrated.”
Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods, for their part, issued dire warnings in recent days as officials close down a select number of plants over coronavirus infection concerns.
Tyson Foods’s board chairman John Tyson, for instance, wrote in an ad Sunday that farmers will be left in the dust and “millions of animals — chickens, pigs and cattle ”will be taken out of the market as a result of f Tyson processing center closures. Tyson Foods closed plants in Logansport, Indiana, and Waterloo, Iowa, where at least 182 cases of the virus originated.
Hawley and Baldwin step into the fray amid the turmoil.
“The FTC has the power to shed light on these growing competition and security problems in our food supply,” they wrote in the letter. “The Commission should ask probing questions about major meatpacking firms’ conduct, pricing, and contracting, as well as how their commitments to overseas interests impact the U.S. market and national security.”
The comment was likely a veiled reference to Smithfield Foods, which was purchased by China’s WH Group purchase in 2013 for $4.7 billion. Smithfield Foods retooled processing operations to direct meat to China after a pig disease killed millions of hogs and turned the communist country into a major importer.
Hawley’s been on a tear recently after suggesting in a letter to Barr Tuesday that Amazon represents an “existential threat” to small American retailers. Hawley is one of Silicon Valley’s most stringent critics over the past two years as he and others poke and prod federal authorities to turn their sights on Google and Amazon over antitrust issues.
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