JBS has agreed to settle to the tune of $52.5 million in a retailer’s case accusing meat packers of conspiring to fix beef prices. The settlement is the first in nationwide antitrust litigation over beef price fixing and is subject to court approval.

JBS was joined in the suit, “In re Beef Antitrust Litigation,” by the other beef packers making up the Big Four: Tyson, Cargill and National Beef. The lawsuit was filed by Central Grocers in June 2020 in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota.

JBS said in a statement it did not admit liability, but settling was in its best interest, according to a Reuters report. The company also said it will defend beef price fixing claims by other plaintiffs.

The settlement includes monetary relief for the class, as well as JBS’ extensive cooperation in Central Grocers’ prosecution of the ongoing litigation against the other non-settling packers.

The beef industry finally had a seat at the big table, a full-on Senate Ag Committee hearing on cattle markets.

“The fairness and reasonableness of the settlement is further amplified by the fact that the settlement is an ‘icebreaker’ settlement in a multi-defendant case, assisting plaintiffs in the litigation against the non-settling defendants,” the settlement read.

The promised cooperation includes the following:

An eight hour attorney proffer, where JBS’ counsel is required to summarize the principal facts known to it that are relevant to the alleged conduct, market and industry participants at issue, including any facts previously provided to the Department of Justice (DOJ) or any other investigative authority.

  • Production of JBS’ structured data.
  • Data, documents and contact information necessary for facilitating class notice and settlement administration.
  • Witness interviews with up to six JBS employees.
  • Depositions of up to six JBS employees.
  • Production of up to three current employee witnesses at trial.
  • Assistance with authentication and laying a foundation for admissibility at trial of JBS documents, among other cooperation provisions.

The settlement includes an opt-out provision that permits JBS to withdraw from the settlement if class members representing a specified percentage of total sales of beef sold by JBS in the U.S. opt out of the settlement.

The White House National Economic Council has released another report calling out meat processors for taking advantage of their market power and growing profit margins.

Central Grocers’ complaint alleged the beef packers conspired “to drive up the price of beef in order to realize sky-high margins” and constrained the supply of beef in the U.S. through various means and by engaging in other collusive conduct. The complaint also claims the Big Four packers acted unlawfully from 2015 onward to moderate and suppress slaughter volumes in order to drive up the price of beef.

Industry reactions:

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) said in a released statement it was disturbed to hear of the settlement, since the DOJ has yet to release any findings in their investigation of the beef markets, which began in 2019.

“It is clear from this settlement that cattle producers still don’t have all the information they have demanded and deserve,” said Colin Woodall, NCBA CEO. “The DOJ has an obligation to finish their investigation. Cattle producers do not have years to wait for the government to determine whether there has been wrongdoing; we demand answers now.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), co-author of the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act, called the settlement “a spit in the ocean compared to JBS’ record profit throughout the pandemic.”

A group of poultry company executives accused of allegedly conspiring to fix broiler prices and rigging bids are set for a new trial on Feb. 22, after a jury failed to reach a verdict in December.

“If there were any doubt about the shenanigans Big Packers play to line their pockets at the expense of consumers and independent producers, look no further than JBS’ $52.5 million settlement in price-fixing litigation,” he said.

Grassely said it was time to end price fixing schemes “once and for all,” and he called on Congress to pass the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act.