06.08.21

Where’s the Beef?

Do you remember Clara Peller? In 1984 she was the main character in the Wendy’s Hamburger Restaurant commercial who famously yelled the phrase… “Where’s the beef?” The point of the ad was to highlight the amount of fresh beef used in Wendy’s burgers compared to their competitors. Ironically, during the 2020 pandemic, Wendy’s rolled out a new version of the ad to highlight the supply chain issues which were impacting the availability of beef in grocery stores. The ad begged another question… Do you know where your beef comes from?

I’ve often wondered if folks who aren’t from cattle country understand the importance of this issue. Regardless of where you live or what you do for a living, this is an issue that should matter to you. Consumers are paying way too much for beef at the grocery store. And if you think the money is going to the producer, you’re wrong. 

U.S. farm and ranch families work hard every day to produce the best beef in the world. In a recent article on the Successful Farming website Agriculture.com, journalist Chuck Abbott writes… “A decade ago, farmers received 17.6¢ of each $1 spent on food by Americans. Their share now is barely above 14¢ while processors, retailers, and others in the food chain take a larger share, according to USDA economists, who have tracked the farmer/marketer relationship for a quarter century.” This is not fair to South Dakota producers who work day and night to raise healthy cattle.

Current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack from Iowa is quoted as saying… “For every $1 spent on food, only 14¢ goes to farmers. Now is the time to transform our food system to create a fairer, more transparent system, so at the end of the day more of that dollar ends up in a farmer’s pocket.” I couldn’t agree more.

The problem in this story is the middleman. Sitting between the producer and the consumer are meatpacking companies. Four large packers, two of which are Brazilian-owned, control almost 85% of the beef processing capacity in the United States and are seemingly able to control prices at their will. Meanwhile, our independent cattle producers - who we rely on to feed the world - can barely make enough to feed their families. We must redouble our efforts to fix this.

Senator Tina Smith from Minnesota and I have launched a bipartisan, nationwide effort to defend our consumers and cattlemen. We led a broad coalition of 26 Members of Congress from across the ideological spectrum in sending a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, asking him to examine whether the influence large packers have over the market violates U.S. antitrust laws.