Pork producers win dismissal of price-fixing lawsuits - U.S. judge
By Jonathan Stempel, Reuters
via KFGO (ND) - Aug 8, 2019
(Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday dismissed antitrust lawsuits accusing several U.S. pork companies of conspiring to limit supply in the $20 billion-a-year market, in order to inflate prices and their own profits at the expense of consumers and other purchasers.
Chief Judge John Tunheim of the federal court in Minneapolis said the plaintiffs failed to show "parallel conduct" among the companies, whose combined U.S. market share exceeds 80%, to suggest they had conspired beginning in 2009 to fix prices.
The defendants included Hormel Foods Corp, the JBS USA unit of Brazil's JBS SA, WH Group Ltd's Smithfield Foods Inc, and Tyson Foods Inc, among others, as well as data provider Agri Stats Inc.
They said the plaintiffs failed to allege any agreement to rig prices, and that supply and capacity actually increased.
Tunheim's decision covered 13 lawsuits brought by consumers who bought pork at grocery stores and other retailers for their own use, "direct" purchasers of pork, and "indirect" purchasers who bought pork for commercial food preparation.
The dismissal was without prejudice, meaning the plaintiffs can amend their complaints.
Brian Clark, a lawyer for the direct purchasers, said his clients expect to amend their complaint. Lawyers for the other plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
According to the plaintiffs, the producers manipulated pork prices by publicly touting the need to cut production, thereby signaling to each other that the conspiracy was on, and by sharing price, capacity, sales and demand data via Agri Stats.
But the judge found the plaintiffs' allegations of illegal conduct "sparse and conclusory."
He said they focused mainly on industry data and vague public statements, and were bereft of specific allegations that any producer other than Smithfield lowered pork production.
"It may be true that some of these defendants cut production in the years following 2009. It may also be true that all of these defendants cut production," he wrote. "The fact that the complaints contain this ambiguity is exactly the problem."
The lawsuits resemble private litigation in Chicago federal court where many companies including Tyson and JBS' majority-owned Pilgrim's Pride have been accused of conspiring to fix broiler chicken prices.
Tyson Sued For Pretending It’s a Responsible, Ethical Company
Two groups are angry at Tyson for its feints towards positive environmental practices.
Dan Nosowitz, Modern Farmer
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Labeling of food is a minefield; the FDA has many rules about what companies can and cannot say on their packaging and in their advertising, but there are combine-sized holes through which companies can drive.
We’ve written before about the word “natural” or “all-natural,” which can be printed on packages by anyone, at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all. That’s just one of the many ways that companies, especially agribusiness giants, can make themselves appear more in line with progressive food ideals than they actually are. And now, Tyson is getting sued for it.
As Americans become steadily more conscious of where our food comes from, there’s increasing pressure on producers to cater to those desires. Sometimes, that pressure can effect actual change; sometimes, companies would prefer to keep their costs where they’ve always been, and just adopt the veneer of respectability. A chicken company, for example, might advertise that it’s “hormone-free” or “raised without hormones.” This is perfectly legal to print, but highly misleading. After all, it is completely illegal for any chicken, organic or conventional, to be given hormones.
The Organic Consumers Association and Food & Water Watch, two activist groups, have joined together to file a lawsuit against Tyson Foods, alleging misleading tactics. They do not seek monetary restitution, instead asking for all offending language to be removed from packaging and advertising materials.
These groups find issue with several of the ways Tyson markets itself. In one video, a Tyson representative calls the company “stewards of the land.” Tyson’s website uses the phrases...