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DOJ Continues Crackdown on Chicken Price Fixers

packaged chicken breast
By Richard Dahl on May 25, 2021 5:11 AM

American diners love their chicken. Consumption of chicken has surpassed that of red meat and pork and for good reason: Chicken is healthier and generally cheaper.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, however, some diners have been paying too much for their chicken.

In 2019, DOJ began uncovering evidence of a conspiracy to fix prices on broiler chickens, and in June and October last year, the agency filed charges against several chicken-industry executives. In February this year, Pilgrim's Pride pled guilty to price-fixing, agreeing to pay a $107.9-million fine. In addition, Tyson Foods agreed to pay $221.5 million to settle lawsuits brought by three groups of plaintiffs claiming that the company conspired to inflate chicken prices.

The government's antitrust probe has been continuing, with the latest DOJ crackdown coming May 20 when a grand jury in Denver returned an indictment charging Claxton Poultry Farms with participating in a nationwide conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products sold to grocery stores and restaurants.

A 7-Year Conspiracy

According to court documents, Claxton and co-conspirators, including current president Mikell Fries and current vice president Scott Brady, conspired to suppress and eliminate competition for broiler chicken at least as early as 2012 through 2019.

“As this charge shows, we will not hesitate to prosecute crimes designed to put money in corporate coffers and line executives' pockets at the expense of everyday Americans, including the hundreds of millions of us who rely on chicken to be an affordable staple food," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard A. Powers of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.

Potentially Stiff Fines

Claxton is charged with violating the Sherman Antitrust Act and, if convicted, could face a statutory maximum fine of $100 million. DOJ adds that the penalty could be worse: The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by victims if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

DOJ also adds that they are not necessarily done yet in striving to keep Americans' chicken affordable. The agency asks that anyone with information on price fixing, bid rigging, or other anti-competitive activity related to the broiler-chicken industry contact the Antitrust Division's Citizen Complaint Center at 1-888-647-3258 or visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.html.

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