The US government is to look into a recent surge in beef prices, with retail prices jumping amid coronavirus-related panic buying but cattle farmers not seeing the same rises.

Sonny Perdue, the US Agriculture Secretary, made the announcement on Twitter. The investigation will build on a probe the US Department of Agriculture launched last August after beef prices soared in the wake of a fire at a Tyson Foods plant.

R-CALF USA, the organisation that represents US cattle and sheep producers, claims the US cattle industry is in “crisis”, with ranchers facing “a complete and lasting disconnect between the value of cattle and the value of beef”.

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In a Facebook statement yesterday, R-CALF USA said: “The crisis the U.S. cattle industry is in was not caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but it has significantly worsened because of it. Today’s cattle industry crisis manifested five years ago. At that time cattle prices plummeted, and beef prices continued climbing. The coronavirus pandemic is now shining a floodlight on our dysfunctional cattle and beef industries. Cattle prices are below production costs while consumers pay near record prices for beef.”

Asked to respond to Perdue’s comments, a spokesperson for US beef-processing major Tyson said: “We take our critical role of helping feed people across the country seriously and that begins with the relationships we have with our independent producers who provide us with high quality livestock. We stand ready to cooperate with the oversight function exercised by USDA’s Packers & Stockyards Division. During the current pandemic and following the fire at our Holcomb Kansas facility last August, we have taken steps to minimize the impact each situation had on our producers, production volume and our ability to cover customer needs.”