Some of the nation’s largest and most well-known poultry producers are being accused of colluding to keep prices artificially high — and the claims carry enough weight that the Justice Department has gotten involved.
The investigation comes amid a long-running lawsuit against 17 companies, including Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms, and Perdue Farms. The processors deny the accusations that they have done anything illegal and, instead, note that the rising prices are a reflection of stronger poultry demand.
Collusion allegations are nothing to scoff at in an industry of this size — last year alone, reports show that 42.6 billion pounds of chicken meat was produced, with a value of $65 billion. The 17 companies in the suit control about 90 percent of the U.S. chicken market.
The lawsuit that sparked the Justice Department’s involvement has been joined in recent years by companies such as Walmart, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, US Foods, and Sysco Corp., in which they claim major poultry producers worked together to destroy breeder hens and eggs in a coordinated effort to drive down the number of chickens on the market and drive up prices. There are also allegations that the producers have improperly shared data. The specific evidence tied to these allegations has not been made publicly available.
Government lawyers have asked a federal judge in Illinois to halt evidence-collection in the suit for six months to protect a grand jury investigation into the matter. A ruling is expected this week.