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Weekly global protein digest: Prop 12, US retail meat prices, ASF & HPAI

31 January 2022
Jim Wyckoff Commentary -  TheCropSite

Market analyst Jim Wyckoff shares highlights from this week's activities in the global protein market.

California court grants delay in Proposition 12 on pork

Sacramento Superior Court Judge James Arguelles announced that the rules under Proposition 12 will not take effect on sales of whole pork meat until 180 days after the final regulations are enacted, effectively putting the California rules covering square footage requirements for hogs on hold. The judge rejected the request that the provision not take effect until 28 months after the California Department of Food and Agriculture and California Department of Public Health finalize the regulations.

National Pork Producers Council General Counsel Michael Formica pointed out it is only a “temporary reprieve.” The California Department of Agriculture (CDFA) said they are looking at the ruling but are still enforcing the regulations on producers, but not retailers.

“It should be noted that the judge’s ruling is a narrow one that applies only to retailers, including grocers, and not to pork producers providing pork products to California,” Steve Lyle, CDFA director of public affairs, said. “Pork producers and suppliers remain subject to enforcement if they violate the square-footage requirement that went into effect on Jan. 1.”

US House panel requests info from major packers

The House Oversight and Reform Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee has requested documents from four major meat packers on “increases in retail meat prices and possibly predatory business practices by meat processing companies.”

In letters to Tyson Foods, National Beef Packing Company, JBS Foods USA and Seaboard Corporation, Subcommittee Chairman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) pointed to increases in meat prices at grocery stores while meat companies “have raked in enormous profits and made huge payouts to shareholders and top executives” and said the four companies “appear to have used their market position to significantly increase prices and profits during the pandemic at consumers’ expense.”

The letters cite stats for three of the companies on how much they have increased prices for beef or pork, but did not specify any figure for poultry relative to Seaboard. “The net income of all four companies has soared by 500% since before the pandemic,” the letters stated.

As for meat packer statements that higher input costs are a factor in the higher prices, the letter claimed that “earnings data tell a different story,” noting net profit margins are up “over 300%” since the start of the pandemic. “This demonstrates that higher prices consumers are forced to pay for beef, pork, and poultry, are not an inevitable byproduct of market forces in a competitive marketplace — instead, the evidence suggests that they are a choice companies have made to increase their profits over and above costs,” the letter said.

The companies are requested to provide documentation covering the period from Jan. 1, 2020, to the present by Feb. 8.

China suspends pork imports from Italy

China’s ag ministry says it has suspended pork imports from Italy after the country recently detected African swine fever in a wild boar.

Loose labeling practice on US beef gets President Biden’s attention

President Joe Biden and anti-trust regulators set their sights on giant meatpacking conglomerates. Hamburger or a steak marked “Product of the USA” may contain beef from cattle raised as far away as Australia. The long-simmering fight over the label, which consumer advocates and ranchers consider misleading, generates grievances among cattle producers over the lopsided market power of the four companies that control 85% of U.S. beef-processing.

Producers have been growing increasingly frustrated at the diminished share they receive of soaring grocery-store prices even as they grapple with drought and higher feed costs. Biden yesterday said his administration’s efforts to discourage greater corporate consolidation would help tame inflation.

At a meeting with economic advisers the White House has dubbed his Competition Council, Biden said his administration plans to combat non-compete clauses one in five workers are asked to sign, even when they’re not given access to particularly sensitive information about their employers.

The council was formed to help enact an executive order on competition Biden signed in July. His administration has also worked with ports, truckers and labor unions to ease supply-chain bottlenecks that have contributed to rising prices, though the president’s top economic advisers concede the government can’t do much to influence the basic forces of supply and demand.

New US dairy export group formed

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), the Port of Los Angeles, and CMA CGM announced the formation of a Dairy Exports Working Group, focused on identifying and addressing supply chain issues hampering U.S. dairy product exports. Their focus will be on West Coast ports were the majority of U.S. dairy product exports originate. They will also look at efforts to streamline the movement of products from the interior of the United States to the West Coast.

The group seeks to find ways to aggregate and streamline U.S. dairy exports from multiple suppliers, increase rail availability in interior locations to get product to West Coast ports, see if a “fast lane” concept for vessels agreeing to depart full or with fewer empty cargo containers is a viable option, set terms for exporters using empty containers and set guarantees to fix and surpass “ghost bookings.”

December US milk production down slightly

USDA reported this week that US milk production in the 24 major states during December totaled 18.0 billion pounds, down slightly from December 2020. November revised production, at 17.2 billion pounds, was down 0.2 percent from November 2020. The November revision represented a decrease of 16 million pounds or 0.1 percent from last month's preliminary production estimate.

Production per cow in the 24 major States averaged 2,027 pounds for December, 8 pounds above December 2020. The number of milk cows on farms in the 24 major States was 8.88 million head, 42,000 head less than December 2020, and 8,000 head less than November 2021. October-December Milk Production down 0.1 Percent Milk production in the United States during the October - December quarter totaled 55.5 billion pounds, down 0.1 percent from the October - December quarter of the prior year.

The average number of milk cows in the United States during the quarter was 9.38 million head, 67,000 head less than the July - September quarter, and 46,000 head less than the same period last year.

Livestock markets - more on US meat

Despite Biden administration suggestions meatpackers are engaging in anticompetitive behavior that harms farmers and subsequent Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations, there has been little to show for the effort, said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.).

“If we've got concerns about the marketplace, and we announced an investigation seemingly every year and we never drive to a conclusion, does that actually benefit the marketplace at all?” he asked.

Vilsack said DOJ actions have to “go through the process, before you can make a determination.” He pointed out that USDA and DOJ recently announced a joint effort aimed at facilitating the reporting of anticompetitive activities to help gather more information. Pressed on when producers can expect results from those moves, Vilsack said he did not have that information but promised to circle back with lawmakers after the session.

P&SA rules and regs: Vilsack said USDA is taking separate action through its own information gathering initiatives and working to update Packers and Stockyards Act (P&SA) rules to aid in enforcement. He reiterated USDA is also examining “Product of USA” labeling rules, including a “fairly extensive survey to find out if consumers understand what that means, and whether they place value on it.”

Reports indicate HPAI found in additional wild birds in Virginia

The Delmarva Chicken Association has said in an update to its members that Virginia’s state veterinarian has advised that five wild birds — waterfowl taken by hunters in central and eastern Virginia — were tested and found positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). The birds were hunted January 8 in Henrico and Surry counties.

The discoveries come after three wild birds from North and South Carolina were confirmed by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has having H5N1 HPAI. APHIS is only updating HPAI discoveries in wild birds on a weekly basis so the finds in Virginia have not yet been listed by the agency.

Finds in wild birds in the region are not unexpected and poultry producers in the region have been stepping up their biosecurity measures as a result of the findings. There have been no trade interruptions linked to the HPAI cases in wild birds nor have there been any discoveries in in backyard flocks or commercial poultry operations.

TheCattleSite News Desk

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