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Wyoming joins bipartisan effort to bring more competition to meatpacking industry

Bureau of Land Management

Wyoming's attorney general, Bridget Hill, wrote a letter signed by a bipartisan group of 15 other state attorneys general asking the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, to investigate antitrust violations in the meatpacking industry.

Currently, four companies–Tyson, Cargill, JBS, and National Beef–control 85 percent of the market. Last year saw the best year ever for beef sales, but for every dollar spent on meat at the grocery, only about $0.37 made it into the pockets of ranchers.

"Our producers are not getting the share of that consumer dollar that equitably and fairly they should be entitled to, and that they need in order to be able to continue to stay viable in the cattle business," said Wyoming Stockgrowers Association's Jim Magagna.

Magagna said the four companies mostly buy cattle from feedlots under contract where the price isn't public, rather from sales barn auctions where it is.

"That's one of the key areas of focus, from our perspective, is making sure that enough cattle are bought in an open market situation in a competitive bid situation so that our cattle feeders, and in turn our producers, know what's happening," he said.

Magagna said he was glad to see that the Biden administration set aside funds in the American Rescue Plan to address the issue. He said some of the money should incentivize the construction of larger meat processors here in Wyoming.

Cassandra Fish is a former executive of Tyson, one of the big four meatpackers. She said the beef market is continuing to grow and the U.S. needs more processing plants.

"I don't know if we need more companies or not. That's a conversation. But what we do need is more capacity, because it is not sustainable," she said.

The attorneys' general letter recommends using American Rescue Plan funds to investigate interstate antitrust violations and to incentivize competition in the market, among several other recommendations.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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