Joe Biden’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has hit America’s three largest chicken producers with massive lawsuits as the country battles a growing food crisis.
Biden’s DOJ filed a lawsuit in federal court this week that demands a proposed settlement of $84.8 million from the top three U.S. poultry producers and a data consulting firm.
The lawsuit and the proposed consent decree involve Cargill, Sanderson Farms, and Wayne Farms, according to a news release from the DOJ.
It also targets the data consulting company Webber, Meng, Sahl and Co. and its president, G. Jonathan Meng.
The action comes at a time when the poultry industry has been hard hit on a number of fronts.
Just last month, George’s Inc., one of the nation’s largest vertically integrated chicken producers, announced it was shutting down one of its plants in Campbell County, Tennessee.
The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization’s index for chicken meat prices in June reached its highest level since the series was introduced in 1990, Poultry World reported last week.
The DOJ’s civil antitrust lawsuit alleged there had been a “long-running conspiracy to exchange information about wages and benefits for poultry processing plant workers and collaborate with their competitors on compensation decisions in violation of the Sherman Act,” according to the DOJ release.
The defendants and those cited as co-conspirators who were not named make up about 90 percent of the nation’s poultry processing jobs, according to The Washington Post.
By sharing compensation information, the lawsuit alleged, the companies were able to lessen competition.
By doing so, they were able to pay workers less.
“Through a brazen scheme to exchange wage and benefit information, these poultry processors stifled competition and harmed a generation of plant workers who face demanding and sometimes dangerous conditions to earn a living,” Doha Mekki, principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, said in a statement.
“Today’s action puts companies and individuals on notice: the Antitrust Division will use all of its available legal authorities to address anticompetitive conduct that harms consumers, workers, farmers, and other American producers,” Mekki said.
The settlement prevents the consulting firm from sharing data in any industry that could impact the competition for workers and wages.
The firms would dole out $84.8 million in restitution to workers the Justice Department said were harmed by the companies’ actions.
The consent decree would have a monitor in place for the next 10 years to ensure that the terms of the agreement are kept.
The consent decree would address claims that Sanderson Farms and Wayne Farms have been unfairly treating chicken farmers.
It would prevent the two companies from reducing base payments made to chicken growers, which allegedly was done as a means of punishing underperformers.
The agreement would allow a payment structure with incentives and bonuses.
Bloomberg reported Monday that Cargill, Wayne Farms, and attorneys for WMS and Meng didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment, and Sanderson Farms declined to comment.
The DOJ lawsuit comes after the department lost a case this month in which it claimed five chicken companies were involved in price-fixing, according to the outlet.