JBS, the world’s largest meat packer, has left the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in a surprise move that comes as the group began taking a harder line on concerns about market consolidation.
NCBA, the beef industry’s main lobbying operation in Washington, D.C., recently joined with an unusually broad range of farm and cattle producer groups to call for more transparency in the market and ask the Department of Justice to publicly report on its ongoing antitrust investigation. Sixteen members of Congress also wrote to DOJ this week seeking an update on the probe.
The moves stem from widespread anger among producers who say they are being squeezed with unfairly low cattle prices while consumers are paying near-record prices for burgers and steaks.
The Biden administration is under pressure to include agriculture in its broader antitrust crackdown. Four companies — Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill and National Beef — now process more than 80 percent of the cattle market.
Cameron Bruett, a spokesperson for JBS, said the company “suspended” its membership in NCBA a year ago as part of an internal review about the “benefit and effectiveness of our trade association investments.” The Brazilian company said it plans to stay involved with the group.
“We continue to support U.S. producers through our daily participation in cash cattle markets and through state producer associations.” Bruett said in an email.
An NBCA spokesperson confirmed JBS is no longer a member, but did not respond to a request for comment.
NCBA has long been criticized by independent cattle producers who see the group as bending to the will of the meat packers. Tyson Foods, Cargill and National Beef are still listed as members of NCBA’s product council.
The group has a budget of more than $60 million, more than half of which comes from the beef checkoff — a pot of money for promoting beef that comes from USDA collecting $1 dollar per head of cattle.
R-CALF USA, an independent rancher group based in Billings, Mont., has long criticized NCBA for not representing the interests of producers. The group’s CEO, Bill Bullard, said he was surprised to hear JBS had left.
“That shows that we are right — that one organization simply cannot represent the interests of both the cattle producer and the meat packer that buys cattle,” Bullard said. “There’s antagonism between sellers of cattle and buyers of cattle. We’ve never understood how a producer group could have packers on their governing board.”
“Producers have never faced such a serious crisis in their industry as they are facing today with severely depressed prices, and yet consumers pay overly inflated prices for beef,” he said. “The money is not going back to the producer.”
Kelly Fogarty, executive vice president at the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, which represents ranchers, said the departure was a sign that cattle producers “are being heard” by lawmakers and the administration and “global corporations are feeling the heat as well.”