Class action lawsuit against beef processors proceeds

Cattle antitrust case will now proceed to discovery so that plaintiffs may test their claims.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

September 30, 2021

3 Min Read
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PRICE-FIXING CASE PROCEEDS: Minnesota judge allows antitrust case to proceed against Cargill, JBS, National Beef and Tyson.Shutterstock

A federal judge in Minnesota ordered a class action lawsuit against JBS, Tyson, National Beef and Cargill to proceed. In the ruling, Judge John R. Tunheim found that plaintiffs have plausibly plead that defendants conspired to suppress the price of fed cattle and increase the price of beef.

“We are pleased the effort to restore pricing transparency and competitiveness to the cattle markets is moving forward in the courtroom. This case is nearly two-and-a-half years old, and we look forward to the next step in the litigation,” comments Rob Larew, National Farmers Union president, which is a plaintiff in the case.

The case now enters the discovery phase of the trial, where evidence and information will be presented to demonstrate how packers violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, the Packers and Stockyards Act and the Commodity Exchange Act.

The class-action antitrust lawsuit was originally filed in April 2019 by R-CALF USA though its counsels Scott+Scott Attorneys at Law LLP, along with Cafferty Clobes Meriwether & Sprengel LLP.

USA’s antitrust action alleges the four processors violated the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 by engaging in a price-fixing conspiracy. It also alleges the entities violated the Packers and Stockyards Act as well as the Commodity Exchange Act.

“As the case moves to discovery, NFU will continue to hold the packers accountable. Malfeasance in the cattle markets has been very damaging to independent farmers and ranchers, and we look forward to continuing to advocate for our members in the courtroom,” Larew adds.

A public version of the order will be available at a later date, according to plaintiffs.

Separate DOJ investigation

On May 22, 2020, the DOJ’s Antitrust Division sent civil investigative demands to the nation’s four biggest meatpackers. Since that time, the American people have seen no public results from the investigation. In fact, there is no information to even suggest whether the investigation has concluded or is still ongoing, the letter notes.

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D. previously reported that Congress has not received any update from the Department of Justice on its own investigation into the cattle price changes. He says this is not “unusual” as “agencies are notoriously tight-lipped about ongoing investigations, and there are legal reasons for that.”

However, he did note that the joint statement from leading cattle groups out of a Phoenix meeting in May confirmed their joint desire for a final report from DOJ. At the producer-led meeting, four member leaders from each the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Farmers Union, R-CALF USA and the United States Cattlemen’s Association established several action items including demanding DOJ issue an update on its investigation into packer activity. 

Related: Livestock groups unite on need to address cattle markets

Johnsons says it’s important to make sure these investigations get run to the ground and that the DOJ investigation is “for real, rather than just investigations for show.”

“I think there is a strong bipartisan coalition on the fact that these investigations really do need to conclude, and then we need to have a very transparent release of their findings.”

Following the meeting, Johnson and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., led a bicameral letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the Department of Justice to move forward with their investigation into anticompetitive practices in the meatpacking industry. 

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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