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Economic reality took a bite out of President Biden over the holidays when a family friend griped in his Delaware home that ground chuck can now cost $5 per pound.
But the president said Monday his beef was with corporate “middlemen” rather than decades-high inflation that has caused the price of food and consumer goods to spike.
“I was sitting in my kitchen yesterday and here’s a sunroom off the kitchen and my wife was there with her sister and a good friend named Mary Ann,” Biden recounted during an event focused on ways to reduce meat prices. “And she was saying, ‘Do you realize it’s over $5 for a pound of hamburger meat? $5?’”
“Well, this is partly, you know, the pound of beef today costs five bucks compared to less than four bucks before the pandemic,” Biden continued.
“And here’s some historical context: 50 years ago, ranchers got over 60 cents for every dollar a family spent on beef,” the president went on. “Today, they get about 39 cents. 50 years ago hog farmers got 40 to 50 cents for each dollar they spent. Today, it’s about 19 cents. And the big companies are making massive profits.”
“While their profits go up, the prices you see in the grocery stores go up commensurate,” Biden added. “And the prices farmers receive for the products they are bringing to market go down. This reflects the market being distorted by lack of competition.”
Earlier Monday, the White House announced plans to spend $1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds to support independent meat processing companies, pinning much of the blame on four major firms.
Though Biden did not name the companies, they are Minnesota-based commodity trader Cargill, Arkansas-based chicken producer Tyson Foods, Brazil-based meatpacker JBS and Missouri-based National Beef Packing Co., which is owned by Brazilian beef producer Marfrig Global Foods.
Attorney General Merrick Garland attended the event in the White House-adjacent Eisenhower Executive Office Building and spoke about the Justice Department’s interest in enforcing laws against anti-competitive behavior by monopolies.
Inflation hit a 39-year high in November with the average costs for a range of goods 6.8 percent above costs one year prior.
The highest annual cost increase was for energy, which was up 33.3 percent, with the price of gasoline up 58.1 percent. Food costs were up 6.1 percent.
The cost of ground beef increased 13.9 percent over 12 months, according to government data. The cost of bacon increased 21 percent, chicken meat increased 9.2 percent and fresh fish and seafood jumped 10.6 percent.
But other foods unrelated to the meatpacking industry also increased in cost. Apples cost 7.4 percent more than one year ago, coffee is about 7.5 percent higher in price and canned vegetables are up 6.5 percent.
Biden’s critics blame him — rather than meat processors — for high inflation, arguing that Biden’s American Rescue Plan, signed in March, pumped $1.9 trillion into the economy without new revenue streams, in effect devaluing US dollars.
The president’s stimulus push followed bipartisan legislation in 2020 that doled out about $4 trillion to keep the US afloat during the pandemic.
Biden, who arrived late to the meat industry event due to a snowstorm that slowed his return from Delaware, declined to discuss soaring COVID-19 cases caused by the more contagious Omicron variant, telling a reporter who inquired about CDC guidance, “I’ll be talking to you about that later.”
The president didn’t answer a subsequent question about progress on his plans to mass-distribute 500 million at-home coronavirus rapid tests. The White House declared a “lid” after the event, meaning Biden would have no further public engagements.
The White House reportedly rejected an expert plan in October to mass-distribute at-home rapid tests ahead of a possible holiday surge in COVID-19 cases. Biden embraced the idea late last month as cases increased, but the program may not be up and running for weeks. White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said Dec. 29 that the program’s first contracts won’t be signed until late this week.