But, Mr. Maffei said, the focus on antitrust laws has given the commission the tools and confidence to investigate further abuses by shipping companies, now and in the future, when demand fall and that companies may be tempted to try to keep their freight rates artificially high. “I think it has bolstered our credibility” with businesses and discouraged anti-competitive behavior, he said.
Perhaps the administration’s most sustained focus, in the short term, has been on the meat industry. A report by the National Economic Council this month accused the biggest meat processors of raising prices to boost profits. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meat prices rose 16 percent in November from the same month last year.
“We see the dominant meat processors using their market power to squeeze ever larger profit margins for themselves,” the report says. “Companies facing serious competition cannot do this because they would lose business to a competitor who does not increase their margins. “
The North American Meat Institute, an industry lobby group, denied the allegations and accused the Biden administration of sorting out the economic data. He said the White House was neglecting record levels of demand for beef, pork and poultry.
“The White House Economic Council once again demonstrates its ignorance of agricultural economics and the fundamentals of supply and demand,” said Julie Anna Potts, president of the Meat Institute.
The clash between Mr. Biden and “Big Meat” shone the spotlight on Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, who held the same post for the eight years of the Obama administration. Some farm groups criticized Mr Vilsack’s appointment because he had failed to mount an antitrust effort during his previous tenure and instead oversaw an era of consolidation in the farm sector, including the merger. from Monsanto and Bayer. After leaving the Obama administration, Mr. Vilsack became a dairy industry lobbyist.
Mr Vilsack is now tasked with developing new rules to strengthen a law, the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921, which aims to protect farmers from anti-competitive practices in the meat industry and promote means for consumers to buy directly from farmers. But the rules, which were awarded as part of Mr Biden’s July competition decree, have yet to be announced. This rekindled suggestions that Mr. Vilsack is beholden to the big agricultural corporations.