Major chicken producer fined $108m for price fixing

1 March 2021

Major US chicken producer Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation has been fined $108m after admitting  participating in a conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products.

The Department of Justice announced that between 2012 and the end of 2017, Pilgrim’s was part of a conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition for sales of broiler chicken products in the US.

Broiler chickens are fowl raised for meat production rather than for eggs.

The conspiracy affected at least $361m worth of Pilgrim’s sales of broiler chicken products. An FBI investigation is ongoing.

The District Court in Denver, Colorado, accepted Pilgrim’s guilty plea and ordered the company to pay a fine of $107,923,572.

“Today’s plea is another example of the FBI’s ongoing work to eliminate bid rigging and price fixing and hold those conducting these activities accountable for their actions,” said Steven M. D’Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI Washington field office.

“These criminal acts cheat American workers and consumers while harming competitive markets.”

He said the investigation had led to charges against 10 executives for their efforts to illegally manipulate broiler chicken prices.

In June 2020 SM reported that four executives had been charged for their role in the conspiracy. 

A grand jury in Denver indicted Jayson Penn, Roger Austin, Mikell Fries, and Scott Brady.  

Penn is the president and CEO and Austin is a former vice president of Pilgrim’s Pride, which is headquartered in Colorado.

Fries is the president and a member of the board, and Brady is a VP at Claxton Poultry, a broiler chicken producer headquartered in Georgia.

The offences carry a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum $1m fine. A trial is due to begin in August 2021.

Pilgrim’s Pride, which says it supplies almost one in five of US broiler chickens, said it was taking the allegations “very seriously”.

In 2016, foodservice firm Maplevale Farms filed a lawsuit in Illinois against several chicken producers.

The lawsuit claimed Pilgrim’s Pride and other poultry producers including Tyson Foods, Sanderson Farms, Perdue Farms had colluded to “fix, raise, maintain, and stabilise” the price of broiler chickens.

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