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Trump DOJ Actions Against Meat Cartels: Top Chicken Firm Officials Indicted; Four Beef Firms Subpoenaed

June 15, 2020 —The first week of June, the Department of Justice issued subpoenas to the top four beef-packing cartel firms, for information bearing on their abuse of anti-trust law during recent months of COVID-19, when they charged high prices for slaughtered animals while they paid low prices to the cattlemen who produced them. The civil action is classified, but it comes off the directive issued to the Department of Justice announced by President Trump May 6, ordering an investigation into these practices. The beef packers subpoenaed are Tyson Foods, JBS USA Holdings Inc. (based in Brazil), Cargill Inc., and National Beef Packing (Marfrig, based in Brazil). Together they control more than 85 percent of all beef processed in the U.S., including intermixing beef imports, newly approved to come from South America and Africa.

Moreover, on June 3, the Department of Justice filed price-fixing charges against four corporate officials from “Big Chicken”—Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. (for which JBS is majority owner,) and Claxton Poultry Farms. The charges are for collusion to overcharge buyers of processed poultry from 2012-2017. Five companies control more than 60 percent of all U.S. processed chicken meat.

The Trump directive and DOJ follow-through come amidst an upsurge of pressure from the cattle states; ranchers and farmers are in a do-or-die crisis, and the U.S. food supply is at stake. A leader of the fight is R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard, from Montana, who is quoted in a Bloomberg story today: “We’ve not seen this kind of attention since the early 1900s. We’re in a precarious position now that necessitates Congressional intervention.”

On May 12, a bill was introduced in the Senate by Republican and Democratic lawmakers from the Cattle Belt (Grassley, Testor, Smith, Daines, Rounds, et al.), that will mandate that at least 50 percent of sales of cattle to packers must be open market—called spot or cash sales—and not pre-contract. This is intended to thwart the attempted top-down cartel control in beef, which has been imposed on chickens and hogs already, and which is urgent to roll back.

Bill Bullard told the April 26 conference, “Our live cattle industry is the multinational meat packers’ last frontier to conquer. But we won’t let them conquer our industry. We’re fighting back on many fronts. In our Congress, we are seeking reforms to rebuild our broken markets by prohibiting meat packer conduct and practices that have created a fundamental imbalance in the marketplace between cattle producers and packers. In our Executive Branch, we are seeking reforms to trade policies that now disadvantage cattle producers and favor multinational corporations. In our Judicial Branch, we are seeking enforcement of existing anti-trust laws, in an historic class-action lawsuit against the Big Four largest beef packers—Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill, and National Beef—alleging that they have unlawfully colluded to depress producer prices while inflating their own margins and profits. R-CALF USA will continue fighting for America’s cattle farmers and ranchers until we win.

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