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JBS agrees to pay beef wholesalers $52.5 million in latest price-fixing settlement

Meatpackers’ growing record of eight-figure settlements is seen by some industry groups as a mere rebate for their illegal anticompetitive activity and, worse, allows companies to avoid the admission of wrongdoing. Maxwell said that payouts over price-fixing allegations come nowhere close to reflecting the true cost of damages for industry collusion. 

“I can understand the attorneys’ zeal to settle for that kind of money but their case didn’t involve everyone that paid a price for [the market manipulation],” Maxwell said. “They represented their plaintiffs but they didn’t represent all of us consumers and farmers and ranchers, so JBS takes a walk.” 

For their part, lawyers described this latest settlement as a win—in part because it will require that JBS provide “extensive cooperation” in the plaintiffs’ pursuit of further antitrust claims against other non-settling meat packers. JBS did not respond to a request for comment. 

Cattle producers, led by the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA), which advocates for the success and rights of independent producers, brought a similar case in 2019 against meatpackers that include the Big Four, alleging that they artificially lowered the slaughter supply, resulting in depressed prices for farmers and ranchers as meat-packers raked in record profits. With that case currently in discovery, CEO Bill Bullard said the fact that beef wholesalers reached a settlement at all with JBS is slight cause for optimism. “It suggests that the case is meritorious,” he said. “And because of the similarity with our case, you could apply that there too.” 

There was more encouraging news for producers this week. Senator Chuck Grassley, the Republican from Iowa and member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, used news of the settlement to push for passage of the bipartisan Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act, which aims to improve fairness and transparency in the beef market. Grassley, one of the bill’s authors, said in a statement that “although the settlement is a spit in the ocean compared to JBS’ record profit throughout the pandemic, it validates what cattle producers have been telling me when they try to get a fair price in the marketplace. It’s time to put an end to these price fixing schemes once and for all.”

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