The meat industry has been under increased scrutiny in recent weeks as federal officials investigate multiple antitrust concerns. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking into several of America’s largest beef, pork, and poultry companies regarding issues of potential price-fixing and possible market manipulation. The close examination of the industry comes after breakdowns in the supply chain exacerbated previous concerns related to consolidation in the meat and poultry sectors.
The poultry industry is being closely analyzed, with executives from Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. and Claxton Poultry Farms recently being indicted for allegations of price-fixing and bid-rigging between 2012 and 2017. Another major poultry producer, Tyson Foods, has been cooperating with the DOJ investigation as part of the company’s application for leniency under the DOJ’s Corporate Leniency Program. The probe into the poultry sector has been underway for more than a year after several accusations from retailers and consumers have charged processors with artificially inflating prices since 2008. Tyson Foods is also linked to a separate investigation into the beef market.
DOJ subpoenas have been issued to JBS SA, Cargill Inc., and National Beef Inc., and Tyson Foods after several complaints allege that the companies have been participating in anticompetitive activity. The concerns were highlighted by supply chain issues that became evident amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Several lawmakers, state attorneys general, and President Donald Trump all pointed to a need for more oversight in the beef industry, calling for an investigation to determine if the companies were involved in any malfeasance.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also been conducting its own investigation into the possibility of market manipulation. The increasing level of market concentration in the meat industry has been a source of concern for several years now, as creating conditions that lend themselves to anticompetitive practices. Industry members point to a lack of enforcement of antitrust policies as having allowed a small group of companies to have an unfair influence on the overall markets.