FOOD: Ceiling Zero

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Meat ceilings returned to the U.S. last week—and meat itself went out the window.

OPA put up a tough front, sent out some 2,500 agents to try once more to hold its price line against the black market. In New York City, where about two out of every three butcher shops closed, some black marketeers showed utter contempt for OPA's toughness. They bluntly told OPA agents to scram.

Even if OPA's flurry of crackdown activity succeeded beyond its hopes, the results would be hardly noticeable on U.S. tables. The meat shortage was virtually a famine, and it would not soon get better. Shipments of livestock to slaughtering centers had dried up; many slaughterers closed up shop indefinitely, along with thousands of butchers. In a week in which it would normally purchase and process 9,000 cattle and 26,000 hogs, Armour & Co.'s main plant in Chicago took in only 68 cattle, 139 hogs.

"Dismal Failure." Where was the meat? A great deal of it had been slaughtered in the ten-week ceilingless period when farmers had sent to market just about every animal that could walk or crawl. Much of that meat had been eaten, but doubtless large quantities of it had been stored by buyers who foresaw the return of ceilings and shortages. The meat which was still out in the nation's pastures on the hoof was likely to stay there for many weeks.

Meat industry experts could sight no appreciable easing of the shortage before the year's end. OPA Boss Paul Porter tried to whistle up some cheer, but his best was a prediction that supplies would be "fairly good" after six or eight weeks. If not, Administration Democrats did not like to think about the effects on the November elections.

In its week of desperation OPA also got some bad publicity. In Los Angeles one of its raiding agents made the mistake of getting his picture taken while threatening an auto salesman with a "slapper" (see BUSINESS). The incident brought a somewhat shamefaced confirmation from OPA that several hundred of its "special agents" (none concerned with food) are now authorized to carry arms.