Last week, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) announced that it is taking a closer look by way of a Phase 2 investigation into the proposed Dawn Meats acquisition of Kildare Chilling.
The reason for not granting approval after the preliminary investigation is it has “determined that a full investigation is required in order to establish if the proposed acquisition could lead to a substantial lessening of competition in the State”.
The CCPC will receive submissions on the issue up to Friday 14 July, and when their investigation is complete, will make a final ruling.
As with the ABP deal on Slaney and Linden Foods, any move by one of the larger groups to acquire an independent processor is viewed with suspicion by farmers. Such suspicion is fuelled by a lack of factual information on who gets what in the supply chain.
This isn’t much of an issue when farm gate prices are good, but when they start to fall, as they have been over recent weeks, it becomes a problem.
This is because farmers simply have no idea on what is happening in the market – from the moment they drop the animal off at the factory to when they see the end product on the retail counter or on the menu of a restaurant.
In the US factory, ownership is more concentrated than it is in Ireland, with the four largest processors – JBS, Tyson Foods, Cargill and Marfrig – controlling 85% of processing capacity between them.
The current Biden administration has been hugely critical of this level of concentration, and at the start of last year, launched a $1bn fund (€910m) to support the establishment and development of independent competitors to these groups.
This coincided with a time of exceptional record profitability in US beef processing, but the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) strongly resisted any suggestion that this concentration of ownership was responsible for controlling either consumer or farm gate prices.
In their pushback, they drew on decades of statistics in support of their claim that US prices were simply a function of the market along with supply and demand.
Over the past year, the pendulum has swung and in recent quarterly results, factories have moved from record profits to recording losses while farm gate prices have remained high.
Access to data
Whatever is true about concentration of factory ownership in the US, there is an enviable amount of data collected and published along every step of the supply chain. Stocks and prices are reported in some cases on a twice daily basis and, as Figure 1 illustrates, the USDA publishes monthly data on who gets what, from what is referred to as the consumer beef dollar.
The data is Figure 1 shows US farmer and feedlot suppliers to factories are currently winning, with their share comprising almost half of the retail value after a dramatic turnaround over the middle of 2021, when they were getting just over one third of the retail value.
It is also interesting to note that the wholesale value of beef was in fact lower in May 2023 than in June 2021, despite the value of cattle prices being $1.10/LB, the equivalent of €2.20/kg higher in May 2023 than they were in June 2021.
Irrespective of what the CCPC decides on the Dawn–Kildare Chilling deal, the reality is that information is key to building farmer confidence in the supply chain. Absence of knowledge leads to suspicion filling the vacuum, especially when prices are weak.
Farmers need a strong processing industry that can identify and supply export markets; but too often, farmers and factories seem to be on opposite sides, when in fact they need to be on the same team.