The bankruptcy of prominent Easterday Ranches in Washington State, where owner Cody Easterday had lost more than $200 million in cattle futures, offered a rare opportunity to examine the opaque world of beef pricing, and in particular, Tyson Foods, one of four meat packing corporations controlling 73 percent of the protein market in the United States. Easterday was being prosecuted for wire fraud for lying to Tyson Foods about his trading losses, since he had gambled with money advanced to him by Tyson.
With a grant and other support from the Fund, Lee Van der Voo scoured court documents that detailed how Tyson was increasingly shifting risk onto ranchers. While Easterday’s losses were exceptional and the fraud to cover them an anomaly, the case against him surfaced contracts that are typical of Tyson’s dealings – and highlights practices that contribute to plummeting beef prices for farmers. Those low prices spurred the Biden administration to investigate meatpacking corporations and the manner in which they can control the price of beef. The White House recently said that Tyson and the other three largest meatpacking corporations were using market power to raise prices on consumers and grow profits.