Shareholder’s lawsuit claims Pilgrim’s Pride fixed poultry prices

[A shareholder is suing the parent company of Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation, alleging the global meatpacking titan participated in a poultry price-fixing scheme that damaged its business and reputation.

The lawsuit, filed this month in Colorado’s U.S. District Court by shareholder Malka Raul, is the second since 2016 to allege Pilgrim’s Pride played a role in an industry-sprawling scheme to raise prices of the most popular chicken meat in the country.

The lawsuit alleges Pilgrim’s Brazil-based parent company, JBS S.A., and a dozen current and former business leaders for Pilgrim’s and JBS colluded with other industry players to fix the price of broiler chickens. Another lawsuit, filed two years ago against Pilgrim’s, Tyson Foods and other poultry producers, claims the price manipulation goes back to 2008.

JBS, the largest meat company in the world, acquired Colorado-based Pilgrim’s Pride in 2009. A spokesman for JBS and Pilgrim’s didn’t respond to requests for comment.

An environment where just three poultry companies are responsible for almost half of the market share has led to cozy relationships within the industry that may have made manipulating chicken prices possible, the lawsuits suggest. Court records claim that during the scheme, they kept in mind that a reduced supply of broiler chickens would lead to higher prices.

They cut back the broiler chicken supply “by destroying eggs, relying upon one another’s production to meet customer needs and exporting excess broiler breeder flocks to Mexico, even when doing so was against their independent economic interest,” the first lawsuit said.

The Colorado lawsuit claims that JBS, based in Brazil, is heavily influenced by the country’s Batista family, which owns about 44 percent of JBS. Wesley and Joesley Batista had leadership roles in JBS until they were accused of making bribes to Brazilian officials, banks and food inspectors, who were paid to approve the export of rotten and contaminated meat.

On top of the two suits related to Pilgrim’s, Winn-Dixie Stores and Bi-Lo Holdings filed a lawsuit this month against Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms and Koch Foods for their alleged roles in fixing chicken prices.

Contact Mollie Bryant at 405-990-0988 or Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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