The Government Is Looking Into Rising Beef Prices. Here's Why

As any non-vegetarians can attest, a trip to the grocery store has become an even more painful experience these days, at least when it comes to the pain felt by your wallet. It's practically screaming in agony if you go ahead and put that steak — or even that humble package of hamburger meat — in your cart, but if you pass it up and settle for meat-free pasta or sad old cereal for dinner again, your stomach, tastebuds, and any potential dinner guests may stage their own protest.

While we've heard all of the reasons for rising beef prices — COVID-19 infections at meatpacking plants, disruptions in the supply chain, soaring demand from home cooks — it turns out there may be something shady going on, as well. In fact, skyrocketing beef prices have raised concerns at the highest levels, to the point where Politico reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Justice are both investigating the meatpacking industry to see if there isn't maybe a bit of pandemic profiteering going on.

The nation's top meat packers have been suspected of price fixing

If beef is in such short supply, and customers are evidently willing to pay top dollar for what is still available, then why are farmers and ranchers getting such low prices for their cattle? According to Ed Greiman, general manager of Upper Iowa Beef, the price increase on the consumer end and decrease on the supplier side come from the fact that packing plants are operating at a decreased capacity, and yet producers are desperate to sell off their cattle so they're cutting the prices to avoid having to keep them on feedlots once they've reached optimal weight.

This may be true, but the fact is, there are just four meatpackers — JBS, Cargill, JBS, National Beef, and Tyson — controlling 85 percent of the market, and many suspect that they may have been engaging in a little old-fashioned price-fixing. Newsweek reports that attorneys general from 11 states where cattle ranching is big business requested the DOJ's intervention, as did Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley who cited his fear that these meat packers had been engaging in "potential market manipulation and other illegal activity."

There's some relief from high beef prices on the horizon

While the DOJ price-fixing probe has yet to release any of its findings, there's already been one bit of good news for the hungry consumer — one of the companies under investigation, Tyson, has announced its intent to institute temporary price cuts on selected beef products by up to 30 percent in order to "keep beef on family tables" (and probably to create a little positive PR in light of the government scrutiny).

If these price cuts mean beef is back on your table, it's still not going to be cheap enough to waste by cooking it wrong. Make sure to follow these tips so even the most basic of burgers and cheapest cuts of steak will come out perfect. Oh, and if you're completely broke but still craving a steak dinner, remember, Dollar Tree's got your back. Their $1 ribeye may not be filet mignon, but it's actually quite edible.