Tyson Foods included in chicken price-fixing investigation by Justice Department

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 1,571 views 

Springdale-based Tyson Foods is one of several chicken processors indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in price-fixing allegations under investigation for the past three years.

The DOJ and a federal grand jury recently found four chicken executives from Colorado-based Pilgrim’s Pride and Georgia-based Claxton Poultry conspired to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chickens from 2012 to 2017. While Tyson Foods was indicted and implicated in the case, the company received a grant of leniency because it self-reported information in 2019.

Tyson Foods was subpoenaed in the federal case in April 2019. Tyson said in its own investigation of this matter it self-reported information in connection with that investigation and fully cooperated with the DOJ, according to a statement Wednesday (June 10) from Tyson Foods CEO Noel White.

Donnie Smith, the Tyson Foods CEO when the investigation began, denied the company was involved in ongoing price-fixing allegations lodged by restaurant customers. Tom Hayes reiterated those words during his brief tenure as CEO. White, CEO since late 2018, has also maintained the company’s innocence.

In White’s statement about the June 2 indictment by the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, he said Tyson is committed to competing vigorously, honestly and in compliance with the letter and spirit of the antitrust laws enforced by the DOJ.

“Tyson took appropriate actions to address the internal issues and has been fully cooperating with the DOJ as part of its application for leniency under the DOJ’s Corporate Leniency Program. A formal grant of leniency will mean that neither the company nor any of its employees will face criminal fines, jail time or prosecution. Our swift and decisive actions demonstrate our steadfast commitment to treating suppliers, customers and partners with integrity and to fostering a free and fair competitive environment that not only benefits consumers but makes Tyson Foods better,” White said in the formal statement.

Tyson declined to disclose the specific information self-reported to the DOJ.

The indictment named Pilgrim’s Pride CEO Jayson Penn, former Pilgrim’s Pride Vice President Roger Austin, Claxton Poultry President Mickell Fried, and Claxton Vice President Scott Bradley as being charged in the federal case. All four named defendants are scheduled to appear before a magistrate judge in a U.S. District Court in Denver on Thursday. The indictment alleges the men discussed prices and negotiated to fix, stabilize and raise prices. The indictment cites a number of alleged phone calls and text messages between the parties

The original suit against the poultry industry was filed in September 2016 by Maplevale Farms, but additional suits have followed including complaints from Walmart, Kroger and foodservice giants Sysco and U.S. Foods.

The DOJ entered the investigation in June 2019 and began its own probe in the price collusion claims. At that time, the DOJ petitioned the federal court in the Northern District of Illinois to intervene in the case.