OMAHA, Neb. — JBS has agreed to pay $20 million to settle a lawsuit with consumers that accused the giant meat producer of conspiring with other meat companies to inflate the price of pork, which will only reinforce some of the ongoing concerns about how the lack of competition in the industry affects prices.
A federal judge in Minnesota approved the latest settlement in these price-fixing lawsuits last week. But the judge also ruled that nearly $7 million of the settlement will go to the plaintiffs' lawyers for their work in the case. It's not clear yet how much individual consumers who bought pork between 2009 and last year might receive out of the remaining $13 million.
This pork lawsuit is one of several price-fixing lawsuits making their way through the courts. Meat producers have also been accused of inflating beef and chicken prices, and several multimillion-dollar settlements have been announced in those cases. The meat companies have defended their pricing practices even though there have been a number of settlements in these cases.
Previously, JBS agreed to pay restaurants and caterers $12.75 million as part of a different settlement in this pork lawsuit, and Smithfield Foods agreed to pay two different groups of pork purchasers $83 million and $42 million in two different settlements in the case.
Officials at the Brazilian company’s U.S. headquarters in Greeley, Colorado, didn’t immediately respond to questions about the latest settlement on Monday, but JBS didn’t admit any wrongdoing as part of the deal. The lead attorneys for the plaintiffs also didn’t immediately respond to questions.
The pork lawsuit remains pending against other major producers including Hormel and Tyson Foods and the Agri Stats database company they allegedly used to share confidential information about price, capacity and demand. JBS agreed to cooperate with the case against those other companies as part of the settlement.
The lawsuit accuses the major meat processors, who together control more than 70% of pork production nationwide, of working cooperatively to limit the supply of hogs and inflate prices.
The White House, several agricultural trade groups and a number of prominent members of Congress have all questioned the industry's pricing practices although the meat producers argue that supply and demand factors, not anticompetitive behavior, drive prices.
The Justice Department has been looking into allegations of price fixing in the industry at least since 2020, but it hasn’t provided updates on its investigation.
The Biden administration has announced several efforts to increase competition in the meat industry to help reduce prices including a $1 billion program to help establish and expand independent slaughterhouses. And the White House has tweaked administrative rules to make it easier for farmers and ranchers to report concerns or sue over anticompetitive behavior.
The judge who approved the settlement last Wednesday said awarding the lawyers involved 33% of the proceeds, as he did here, was in line with other similar class action lawsuits.