OMAHA, Nebraska — JBS has agreed to pay $20 million to customers to resolve a lawsuit alleging that it conspired with other meat companies to increase the price of pork.
The latest settlement in the meat sector will certainly strengthen the worries that the White House, members of Congress, and trade groups have expressed regarding the effect of a lack of competition on industry prices.
Last Monday, a federal court in Minnesota accepted the price-fixing lawsuit settlement. In addition, the judge determined that approximately $7 million of the settlement will be allocated to the plaintiffs’ attorneys for their efforts on the case.
The pork lawsuit is one of a number of price-fixing cases proceeding through the courts. Several multimillion-dollar settlements have been reached in situations where meat manufacturers have been accused of manipulating the cost of beef and poultry.
JBS previously agreed to pay restaurants and caterers $12.75 million as part of a different settlement in this pig lawsuit, and Smithfield Foods previously agreed to pay two other groups of pork consumers $83 million and $42 million as part of two separate settlements in the case.
Despite the settlements, the meat industry has defended its pricing policies.
JBS’s U.S. headquarters in Greeley, Colorado, did not immediately reply to questions about the latest settlement on Monday, but the business did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the agreement.
The plaintiffs’ lead attorneys stated that it is unclear how much each consumer who purchased pork between 2009 and 2017 may get, in part because further settlement funds may be added to the fund before payments are made. More details about the settlement are accessible online.
The pork action is still pending against other large producers, including Hormel, Tyson Foods, and the Agri Stats database business, with which they allegedly shared proprietary price, capacity, and demand information. As part of the settlement, JBS agreed to cooperate with the prosecution against these other corporations.
The complaint alleges that the major meat processors, who collectively control more than 70% of the nation’s pig output, colluded to limit the availability of hogs and increase prices.
The White House, many agricultural trade groups, and a number of senior members of Congress have all questioned the industry’s pricing policies, while meat producers maintain that supply and demand, not anticompetitive conduct, drives prices.
Since at least 2020, the Justice Department has been investigating charges of price fixing in the industry, but it has not published any updates on its inquiry.
The Biden administration has launched a number of initiatives to boost competition in the meat business in an effort to cut prices, including a $1 billion program to aid in the establishment and expansion of independent slaughterhouses. And the White House has modified administrative regulations to make it easier for farmers and ranchers to denounce anticompetitive behavior or file a lawsuit against it.
The judge who authorized the settlement on Wednesday stated that paying 33% of the revenues to the attorneys involved was consistent with other similar class action lawsuits.