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Over the past 18 months, beef prices have risen steadily, yet cattle rancher profits have dropped by more than 25%. Meatpackers are taking the lion's share, and the four biggest multinational conglomerates--Tyson, JBS USA, Cargill and National Beef--control more than 80% of the US beef supply. That's a bit too much consolidation according to Joe Biden, who recently signed an executive action aimed at diversifying and strengthening the US meat supply by increasing competition in the beef industry.
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A joint investigation by The Guardian and Food and Water Watch found that only a few transnational companies control the market for nearly 80% of common American grocery items. For instance, PepsiCo owns five of the most popular dip brands and General Mills, Kellogg, and Post own 73% of the breakfast cereals we eat. Go capitalism! The problem is that market dominance and political power by mega-companies do not generally favor consumers, farmers, and retailers.
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Two decades ago, the US and EU began a trade dispute over subsidies to aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus. As a result, everything from French wine and Italian cheese to American bourbon got slapped with a 25% surcharge as it shipped overseas. Finally, the two world powers have called a truce. A wide array of European wines and food products such as olives and cheese will now be free of the 25% tariff for at least 5 years. Hallelujah! Cognac, brandy, and vodka from both continents will also shed the surcharge, a move praised by restaurateurs and liquor producers as they struggle to recover from the pandemic. But one beverage category has been left conspicuously out of the deal: American whiskey will still be subject to a 25% tariff due to a separate ongoing trade dispute over steel and aluminum. Sorry bourbon. You'll still be pricey in Europe.
More Supply Chain News
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It's simple supply and demand. The US hog supply is down about 2% compared to this time last year. Meanwhile, now that restaurants are reopening and people are hosting barbecues again, demand for pork chops and hot dogs is going up. Bacon prices make a good barometer. In March 2020, the price per pound of bacon was $4.72, but now it's up to $5.11. If you want to save a few bucks on pork shoulder, it might be a good time to stock up before pork prices climb higher.
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The pandemic has been great for the shipping business. But a container shortage is now wreaking havoc on the global supply chain. Shipping container factories are scrambling to keep up with demand, causing delays in shipping everything from US soybeans to Thai rice. China is also paying huge premiums for containers, making it more profitable for shippers to return the containers to China empty instead of refilling them for the return trip as usual. That means the US is stuck with tons of grains and India can't ship its mountains of sugar. As a result, white sugar prices recently surged to a three-year high, and delays in US soybean shipments could mean higher tofu and soy milk costs for Asian consumers. Analysts expect shipping containers to remain scarce through the end of 2021. At least the giant Ever Given cargo ship was finally freed from the Suez Canal Monday, easing tensions in the frantic shipping industry.