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Beef and Pork Marketing Margins and Price Spreads during COVID‐19

Jayson Lusk (), Glynn Tonsor () and Lee Schulz

Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, 2021, vol. 43, issue 1, 4-23

Abstract: COVID‐19‐related disruptions led to a historic rise in the spread between livestock and wholesale meat prices. Concerns about concentration and allegations of anticompetitive behavior have led to several inquiries and civil suits by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Justice, with increases in price differentials serving as a focal point. This article notes the difference between price spreads and marketing margins, outlines corresponding economic theory, and describes the empirical evidence on wholesale meat and livestock price dynamics in the wake of COVID‐19 disruptions. At one point during the pandemic, beef and pork packers were both operating at about 60% of the previous year's processing volume. We explore how such a massive supply shock would be expected to affect marketing margins even in the absence of anticompetitive behavior. Moreover, we document how margin measurements are critically sensitive to the selection of data and information utilized. Finally, we conclude with some discussion around policy proposals that would pit industry concentration against industry coordination and economies of scale.

Date: 2021
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