By Hannah Packman, NFU Communications Director

Brazilian company JBS, the world’s largest beef and pork processor, plans to buy the second largest lamb processing facility in the United States and use it to process beef instead, drawing concern from farmers, legislators, and anti-trust advocates.

The plant, which is based in Colorado, processes about 350,000 lambs each year. The center of the nation’s sheep industry, the region lacks any other facilities of comparable size, meaning its closure could strand Western lamb producers without anywhere to process their livestock. Under any circumstances, such a loss would be devastating, but the timing is particularly cruel as the lamb industry was already reeling from pandemic-related disruptions.

On top of its implications for farmers and ranchers, stakeholders have apprehensions about what the acquisition would mean for food sovereignty, trade, and market power. JBS USA, the domestic subsidiary of JBS, already controls 18.5 percent of the beef industry. It and its parent company have an atrocious reputation, allegedly driving deforestation in the Amazon, bribing health officials to overlook unsanitary practices, fixing prices, and failing to protect workers. By expanding its beef processing capacity in the U.S., this problematic corporation could claim an even larger share of the industry.

It’s also important to note that JBS is one of the largest importers of lamb to the U.S. By preventing domestic processing, it may be positioning itself to ramp up lamb exports, as a group of Republican legislators pointed out in a letter sent last week. “Through this acquisition, JBS will eliminate a major domestic competitor in the region and could replace significant quantities of the American-raised lamb with imported product,” the letter reads. The lawmakers urged the Department of Justice to “immediately open an investigation into this acquisition and demand that JBS cease from any irreversible actions that might harm the ability of American sheep ranchers to get their products to market.”

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