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New report shows reasons for increase in pork pricing

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If you have been to the grocery store lately, you have seen the rise in prices for goods and a few empty shelves. This has led to and increase in discussion about the structure of the U.S. meatpacking industry and the relationship between consolidation, industry profits, supply-chain disruptions, and high retail prices. To determine the recent uptick in prices for pork, economist set out to find an answer.

In a new report, economists with Iowa State University, North Carolina State University, and the National Pork Producers Council found that pork prices have risen because of strong demand for U.S. pork, higher input costs, and labor shortages throughout the supply chain. The increase in prices did not include concentration in the meatpacking industry. The report’s authors also found that pork prices in the United States are still lower than in many other countries.

The pork packing industry is made up of fewer and larger plants than it was 50 years ago, but the structure of the industry has changed little in recent decades, the report stated, and concentration levels today are about 7 percent lower than they were five years ago because of new packing plants that opened from 2017 to 2020. Four of those five plants are at least partially producer-owned. In fact, more than 100 industries had a greater concentration level, according to a commonly used calculation, the report noted.

“This report shows the concentration level in the pork packing industry is not significantly higher than it was 15 years ago,” said NPPC President Jen Sorenson. “The recent increase in pork prices is driven by strong pork demand, rising input prices, higher wages and supply chain bottlenecks throughout the industry.”

The report’s authors, Iowa State’s Dermot Hayes, NC State’s Barry Goodwin and NPPC’s Holly Cook, also found no evidence that significantly higher profits are being captured at the wholesale level during this time of higher retail prices. The farm-to-wholesale price spread — which consists of packers’ costs and profits — has been shrinking while the wholesale-to-retail spread has increased over the past six months. Packer gross margins also are estimated to be within their 5-year average range, according to the report.

“Although pork prices have risen rapidly in recent months,” said Iowa State’s Hayes, “retail and carcass prices in the U.S. are still relatively low when compared with prices in other countries.”

“Americans pay less for pork, not more than consumers in most other nations,” Sorenson said. “That includes big pork-producing countries such as Canada, Denmark, and Germany.”

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