“Big Poultry” Producer Pleads Guilty to Price Fixing

Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. of Colorado has pleaded guilty and will pay $107 million in criminal fines for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products. According to the plea agreement entered in the U.S. District Court in Denver, from as early as 2012 and continuing at least into 2017, Pilgrim’s participated in a conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition for sales of broiler chicken products in the United States that affected at least $361 million in Pilgrim’s sales of broiler chicken products. The announcement came from the Department of Justice Antitrust Division on Feb. 23, 2021, which noted the matter was resolved through the efforts of its career prosecutors and staff, investigators with the FBI, and inspectors general with the Department of Commerce and Department of Agriculture.

This is the latest in the price fixing saga for the poultry producer. Pilgrim’s Pride’s agreed to pay poultry purchasers $75 million to settle price-fixing claims, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced in January. The company, a unit of Brazilian meat giant JBS SA, didn’t admit to wrongdoing. The company also agreed in October 2020 to pay a $110.5 million fine in a plea deal with the DOJ on price-fixing allegations, which successfully implicated two of its former chief executives.

Poultry buyers including Chick-fil-A and Target Corp. have sued top U.S. chicken producers for fixing meat prices for years. “At latest count,” according to Successful Farming, “10 executives from at least five poultry processing companies have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver as part of an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department. The indictments include two former chief executives of Pilgrim’s. The government says the price-fixing conspiracy operated from at least 2012 until at least early 2019 and resulted in higher prices for consumers.”

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