State attorneys general ask Justice Department to investigate meat prices

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DENVER (KDVR) — If you’ve noticed rising meat prices at the grocery store, so has Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.

He’s one of 11 state attorneys general from Midwest and Rocky Mountain states who signed a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking it to investigate possible price manipulation.

“Consumers may see really high prices even while ranchers are given low prices. We’re not sure what’s going on in this market. There’s obviously a lot of disruption right now. We think ranchers and consumers need answers and we want this to be investigated and examined closely,” said Weiser.

Craig Taber owns Locavore Delivery, which works with small family ranches and independent meat processors to deliver pasture-raised meat to home subscribers. 

“Prices at the grocery store are going up, customers are paying more and the ranchers are getting less. It doesn’t jive well,” said Taber, who told FOX31 he’s glad some attorneys general are now asking questions.

“There’s thousands of beef producers but there’s only four main companies that do 80 percent of the processing. And so there’s a real bottleneck there and so the processors are really able to dictate terms to these ranchers in terms of what they’re going to pay,” he said.

Taber said he could easily raise prices for his home delivery services because demand has skyrocketed but not because his supply is limited.

“I can speak for ranchers in saying the ranchers, I don’t think, have been treated fairly for years and especially now,” said Taber, before adding, “We’ve decided that we’re not raising any of our prices at all during any of this. It’s just not fair or reasonable or necessary. We’re not trying to be greedy,” said Taber.

Some meat packing plants are operating at a lower capacity because of COVID-19 outbreaks that have kept some workers at home. But Kim Cordova, the president of United Farm and Commercial Workers Local 7, which represents workers at the JBS meat processing plant in Greeley, said fewer workers doesn’t necessarily justify higher prices at the grocery store.

“Right now with them forcing these plants to reopen, there’s no food shortage. I mean, there will be if they don’t protect these workers and workers continue to die or be sick,” Cordova said.

 FOX31 reached out to JBS for comment about the letter signed by the attorneys general but the company didn’t respond.

Cargill, which operates a meat production plant in Fort Morgan, emailed FOX31 the following statement:

“For many years, Cargill has served as a trusted partner to American cattle ranchers, committed to supporting their family farms and livelihoods. We believe the assertions lack merit, and we are confident in our efforts to maintain market integrity and conduct ethical business.”

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