Tyson and Perdue Farms agreed to pay a total of $35.75 million to broiler chicken farmers to settle a class action lawsuit. It’s part of a larger antitrust lawsuit involving some of the country’s largest chicken processors, including Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms and Koch Foods.
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2017 in the Eastern District of the Oklahoma federal court.
Gary Smith Jr., a partner at Hausfeld LLC, a law firm representing the broiler chicken farmers, says the lawsuit alleges the companies conspired to suppress wages by agreeing not to hire a grower from another company, known as a “no poach” policy.
“In a competitive market, you would go out, and you would try to attract the best labor you could have,” Smith says.
The lawsuit also alleges the chicken companies use Agri Stats, a data website, to share compensation data and suppress wages. James MacDonald, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Maryland, says Agri Stats is often featured in antitrust lawsuits against big meat processing companies.
“Basically, in all of these cases, Agri Stats is at the core of them because it is argued that Agri Stats provides a channel by which the individual chicken companies can avoid competing with one another,” MacDonald says.
MacDonald says the information about the plants is anonymous but so detailed that those in the poultry business can identify other plants.
Tyson and Perdue Farms have agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of the remaining defendants in the case. Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms and Koch Foods are still fighting the lawsuit in court.
Smith says there will be more information about the settlement and how broiler chicken producers can file a claim at www.broilergrowersantitrustsettlement.com, which will go live by Sept. 22.
More and more, large chicken processing companies have been the subject of lawsuits and even criminal charges from the U.S. Department of Justice. Previously, Pilgrim’s Pride pleaded guilty to price fixing and rigging bids for broiler chicken products and has paid $107 million to the Department of Justice. Tyson also paid $221.5 million to settle price-fixing allegations in January.
Smith says the settlements and fines could lead to fairer markets.
“We believe that our settlements, both independently and in combination with the lawsuits by other plaintiffs and federal regulators, will have exactly that effect of deterring those who are contemplating engaging in future anti-competitive conduct from doing so because they will see the real world financial consequences of doing so,” Smith says.