Data highlights ‘egregious’ pandemic profiteering by US food and oil giants

On the eve of a congressional hearing on corporate price hikes, a new analysis shows that "companies are hiding behind the pandemic and supply chain disruptions as an excuse to gouge consumers."

A new analysis released Tuesday ahead of a congressional hearing on pandemic-era price gouging shows that U.S. corporations in the food and energy sectors—from Tyson to Exxon Mobil—are pushing higher costs onto consumers while raking in ever-increasing revenues and handing executives massive pay packages.

Conducted by the advocacy group Food & Water Watch (FWW), the analysis spotlights the fact that skyrocketing food and energy—specifically gasoline—prices have been major contributors to the overall rise of inflation in the U.S. Between December 2019 and December 2021, the nation’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) jumped by 8.5%.

According to FWW, overall energy costs rose 20% over that period while the price per gallon of unleaded gasoline increased by 31.7%.

Meanwhile, FWW found, “the cost to feed a family of four on a ‘thrifty’ food plan has increased by 33.5%,” driven by the rising prices of ground beef (+19.2%), bacon (+31.7%), chicken breasts (+19.7%), milk (+17.4%), and eggs (+16.5%).

The analysis emphasizes that such “egregious” price increases come as leading corporations in the U.S. food and energy sectors are reporting growing revenues and huge profits. Tyson Foods—the second-largest chicken, beef, and pork processor in the world—has seen its revenue grow 11% above pre-pandemic levels.

The corporation also rewarded its top executives with higher pay in 2021 even as it raised prices for consumers, blaming supply chain issues.

Amanda Starbuck, research director at Food & Water Watch, argued in a statement Tuesday that “companies are hiding behind the pandemic and supply chain disruptions as an excuse to gouge consumers.”

“In reality, 2021 revenues among the largest food and energy corporations topped pre-pandemic levels,” said Starbuck. “Many companies have subsequently fattened executive compensation while worker wages have stagnated or even dropped.”

FWW’s analysis was published on the eve of a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing scheduled for Wednesday titled, “Pandemic Profiteers: Legislation to Stop Corporate Price Gouging.”

One of the witnesses set to testify at the hearing is Groundwork Collaborative chief economist Rakeen Mabud, who on Monday co-authored an article in The American Prospect arguing that recent product shortages and price hikes were “brought to life through bad public policy coupled with decades of corporate greed.”

“We spent a half-century allowing business executives and financiers to take control of our supply chains, enabled by leaders in both parties,” wrote Mabud and David Dayen, the Prospect‘s executive editor. “They all hailed the transformation, cheering the advances of globalization, the efficient network that would free us from want. Motivated by greed and dismissive of the public interest, they didn’t mention that their invention was supremely ill-equipped to handle inevitable supply bottlenecks.”

“And the pandemic exposed this hidden risk,” they added, “like a domino bringing down a system primed to topple.”

Mabud is expected to reiterate that conclusion before lawmakers at Wednesday’s House hearing. According to her prepared testimony, Mabud will contend that “big corporations have taken advantage of shifting demand to raise prices on essentials like Covid tests, masks, and hand sanitizer, all to generate record profits.”

“Our economy works best when it works for all of us, but deeply entrenched concentrated corporate power has systematically stripped down supply chains and undermined consumers’ bargaining power,” Mabud plans to say. “The path towards an inclusive, resilient economy must include policies that foster competitive markets where consumers, working people, and smaller competitors all have meaningful bargaining power.”

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Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow him on Twitter: @johnsonjakep.

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