The U.S. Justice Department has intervened in a price-fixing lawsuit against major poultry processors, raising the possibility of eventual criminal charges.
The Justice Department stepped into a civil suit filed in 2016 by retailers, foodservice suppliers and consumer groups against poultry processors including Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride and Sanderson Farms, which among them control almost half the domestic chicken market. The suit alleges that the processors conspired to keep prices for broiler chickens high by, among other means, pegging them to a now-discontinued benchmark price issued by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
The Justice Department asked the federal court judge in Illinois hearing the case to suspend depositions and other evidence collection for six months to allow a grand jury to investigate, and he agreed to do so on June 27. The government’s intervention raises the possibility that it is envisioning criminal charges and wants to prevent the civil suit from preempting the case. A law professor remarked to the Wall Street Journal that the Justice Department could bring charges even if the civil case is settled out of court.