DOJ settles with JBS for $52.5 million in price fixing allegations

The recent announcement that the Department of Justice and JBS USA reached a $52.5 million settlement over allegations of beef price fixing certainly drew attention but also left those who have pushed for greater transparency to be disappointed that no findings have been released.

The case has been in the U.S. District Court for Minnesota and requires approval by Chief Judge John Tunheim of the federal court also in Minneapolis. Other defendants in the lawsuit include Cargill Inc., National Beef Packing and Tyson Foods.

The announcement involving JBS, which has stated it does not admit liability and settling was in the company’s best interest, was disturbing to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. NCBA was the first national organization to request a government investigation of beef markets in 2019. Now there are settlements occurring without Department of Justice having released findings or even providing cattle producers with an update on progress, NCBA says.

In August 2019, following a fire at the Tyson plant in Holcomb, Kansas, NCBA sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture requesting an examination of price discrepancies in fed cattle markets. Again in 2020, NCBA took its plea directly to the White House, which then directed DOJ to investigate possible wrongdoing in the cattle markets. NCBA has also worked directly with members of Congress to press DOJ for an update and information about its investigation.

“America’s cattle producers expect and deserve full transparency on any, and all, information related to the ongoing market investigations. NCBA encourages the government to finalize its investigation so we can fully understand any damage that may have been caused,” said Colin Woodall, NCBA CEO. “It is clear from this settlement that cattle producers still don’t have all the information they have demanded and is deserved. The DOJ has an obligation to finish their investigation. Cattle producers do not have years to wait for the government to determine whether there has been wrongdoing, we demand answers now.”

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-IA, a farmer and a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and co-author of the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act, issued the following statement after JBS settled a lawsuit over beef price-fixing:

“If there were any doubt about the shenanigans Big Packers play to line their pockets at the expense of consumers and independent producers, look no further than JBS’ $52.5 million settlement in price-fixing litigation. The other members of the Big Four packers continue to face similar allegations. Although the settlement is a spit in the ocean compared to JBS’ record profit throughout the pandemic, it validates what cattle producers have been telling me when they try to get a fair price in the marketplace.”

The multinational corporation agreed to a settlement of $52.5 million, which pales in comparison to the company’s profits: in the third quarter of 2021 alone, JBS’s U.S.-based beef operations delivered a gross profit of more than $1.7 billion, according to Farm Action, Mexico, Missouri.

This is just the latest in a series of settlements paid by JBS, which has a habit of getting sued for price-fixing in every sector of its operations, the organization said in a news release. In December 2021, JBS paid $24.5 million to settle pork price-fixing claims; meanwhile, the company’s U.S. gross pork profits reached $261.9 million in the third quarter of 2021. In January 2021, JBS subsidiary Pilgrim’s Pride paid $75 million to settle a poultry case, yet the company still grossed $2.9 billion in the third quarter of 2021.

“It’s clear that these legal settlements are just the cost of doing business for JBS,” said Joe Maxwell, president of Farm Action.

JBS is the first corporation to settle as part of ongoing nationwide antitrust litigation over beef price fixing. Other defendants include Cargill Inc, National Beef Packing and Tyson Foods.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached 620-227-1822 or [email protected].