The Justice Department has taken legal action against Agri Stats, a meat data provider, by filing a civil antitrust lawsuit. The lawsuit accuses Agri Stats of orchestrating and managing exchanges of anticompetitive information among broiler chicken, pork, and turkey processors.
According to the complaint, Agri Stats has violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act, which is an antitrust law. The company has allegedly collected, integrated, and distributed competitively sensitive information related to price, cost, and output among competing meat processors. This behavior has had negative consequences for customers, including grocery stores and American families, as stated by the Department of Justice.
Although the statement did not mention any specific companies that receive Agri Stats reports, the stocks of meat producers experienced a decline on Thursday. Tyson Foods Inc. dropped 1%, Hormel Foods Corp. was down 0.2%, Conagra Brands Inc. fell 0.1%, and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. saw a minor increase of 0.2%.
At the time of writing, none of the companies involved have provided a comment in response to the lawsuit.
The complaint was filed in the District of Minnesota and alleges that Agri Stats has been aware for years that the reports it produces for participating meat processors are being used for anticompetitive purposes. In fact, it claims that in some cases, Agri Stats has even encouraged these processors to raise prices and reduce supply.
The Department of Justice has shed light on the fact that Agri Stats withholds its reports from meat purchasers, workers, and American consumers while distributing large amounts of competitively sensitive information among participating processors. This creates an information asymmetry that further worsens the competitive harm caused by Agri Stats' information exchanges.
The scheme in question is said to be ongoing in the chicken processing industry and potentially other sectors as well. While Agri Stats has temporarily halted its turkey and pork reporting due to facing private antitrust suits, the organization plans to resume this reporting once these suits have been resolved.
The Justice Department's Commitment to Addressing Anticompetitive Information Exchanges in the Meat Industry
Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division has expressed a strong commitment to tackling anticompetitive practices in the meat industry. These practices result in higher prices for consumers when it comes to purchasing chicken, pork, and turkey. The Justice Department aims to ensure that consumers are not burdened with inflated prices due to unfair information exchanges.
Agri Stats: A Brief History
Founded in 1985 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Agri Stats has played a significant role in the meat industry. Jim Cox, the founder of Agri Stats, started the business with the vision to provide industry participants with accurate and timely data while maintaining utmost confidentiality. Cox began his career as a poultry consultant and worked at Central Soya Company for 28 years before taking the entrepreneurial leap and launching Agri Stats at the age of 50. His dedication to delivering informed decision-making tools for industry players was paramount throughout his career.
Addressing Concerns of "Greedflation"
In recent times, concerns over "greedflation" have been voiced by economists and consumer advocacy groups. Greedflation refers to the practice of companies raising prices in order to protect their profit margins during periods of inflation. This practice has attracted criticism as it puts additional financial strain on consumers.
Companies like Tyson Foods have been prominently featured in this debate. On earnings calls, Tyson executives have discussed their ability to increase prices, which has led to substantial profits and shareholder rewards. Accountable.US, a consumer-advocacy group with liberal leanings, has documented these instances.
However, it's worth noting that Tyson Foods faced challenges in its latest quarter, with weak demand for meat and the impact of plant closures and job cuts. These factors contributed to a surprise loss. Despite this setback, Tyson Foods boasted a net income of over $3.2 billion in 2022, up from $3 billion in 2021. The company also dedicated $1.35 billion to buybacks and dividends for its shareholders.
The Justice Department's intention to address anticompetitive practices in the meat industry is a crucial step towards safeguarding consumers from inflated prices. With increased scrutiny, it is hoped that fairness and transparency will prevail, allowing consumers to make informed choices without undue financial strain.
For more insights on this topic, consider reading about Tyson Foods' recent stock performance after its surprise loss, as well as the apology issued by Tyson Foods CFO to investors following an arrest incident.