Pork is the other white meat, beef is what’s for dinner, and chicken is now under investigation by the Department of Justice for possible antitrust violations. Looks like the DOJ is back in the criminal cartel investigation business.
In June, the DOJ intervened in a class action antitrust lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, asking the court to stay discovery for six months while the Antitrust Division pursued potential criminal charges against key players in the chicken industry. Just recently the district court granted the stay, but reduced the request to three months as opposed to six. The class action as filed alleged that the some of the biggest poultry companies, such as Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson Foods, Sanderson Farms and Perdue Farms, coordinated prices between 2008 and 2016, resulting in a 50% price hike for broiler chicken. The complaint further alleges that they took this action “despite input costs … falling roughly 20% to 23% over the same time period … .” According to the allegations, the poultry industry as it currently exists, is highly consolidated, with just two companies, Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride, controlling about 40% of the market, and the top 10 poultry companies controlling nearly 80% of the market. Such market power, it is alleged, gives the Big Chicken industry enough power to manipulate pricing and supply.
The major allegation lodged at the defendants in the current lawsuit revolves around a company called Agri Stats, a subscription service that documents production practices across the chicken industry. According to the complaint, it is alleged that chicken companies used the platform to share detailed marketing and supply information, thereby allowing competitors to potentially discover how many chickens its rivals were hatching and then reduce their own production as a result. The lawsuit specifically alleges that “the principal … method by which defendants implemented and executed their conspiracy was by coordinating output and limiting production with the intent and expected result of increasing prices of broilers in the United States. In furtherance of their conspiracy, defendants exchanged detailed, competitively sensitive and closely guarded nonpublic information about prices, capacity, sales volume and demand, including through third party co-conspirator Agri Stats.”