JBS offers initial settlement for price-fixing claims

The company agreed to pay $52.5 million in a preliminary settlement
calendar icon 3 February 2022
clock icon 2 minute read

JBS SA agreed to pay $52.5 million to settle litigation accusing meat-packing companies of conspiring to limit supply in the $63 billion-a-year US beef market in order to inflate prices and boost profit, reported Reuters.

The preliminary settlement by the Brazilian company and its US units with so-called direct purchasers was disclosed on Tuesday, and is the first in nationwide antitrust litigation over beef price-fixing.

Lawyers for the purchasers called the accord an "icebreaker" and an excellent recovery, citing JBS' $24.5 million settlement in 2020 of price-fixing claims by pork purchasers.

JBS' lawyers did not immediately respond on Wednesday to requests for comment.

The accord requires approval by Chief Judge John Tunheim of the federal court in Minneapolis. Other defendants include Cargill Inc, National Beef Packing Co and Tyson Foods Inc.

JBS settled one month after US President Joe Biden announced a plan for new rules to bolster competition and stop "exploitation" in the meat sector.

Biden spoke amid concern that a small group of meat packers were capable of dictating beef, pork and poultry prices, adding to inflation pressures caused by rising labour and transportation costs and by COVID 19-related supply constraints.

In their lawsuit, direct purchasers accused the defendants, which controlled an estimated 80% of US fresh and frozen beef supply, of conspiring since 2015 to reduce slaughter volumes, creating a shortfall that smaller companies could not make up.

Commercial beef purchasers and consumers have brought similar lawsuits. Cattle producers also sued, claiming they were paid less than they would have received in a competitive market.

Tunheim also handles litigation concerning the alleged fixing of pork prices. A Chicago federal judge handles litigation concerning the alleged fixing of broiler chicken prices.

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