After being ordered to unite three lawsuits into one earlier this month, Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) is proceeding with the consolidated case, minus one defendant.
The amended case was submitted July 15. The original suits alleged that the country’s top meat processors conspired to depress cattle prices, serving to lower profits for producers. The consolidated suit will be proceeding through the U.S. District Court of Minnesota under U.S. Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer. Defendants include the “Big Four” packers—Cargill, JBS, National Beef, and Tyson Foods, as well as several other parties—but no longer include defendant Agri Stats Inc.
A Fort Worth, TX-based company, Agri Stats is a subscription service which provides statistical data relating to the poultry and swine industries. Although no longer included in the R-CALF lawsuit, the company is still a defendant in a similar class-action suit filed against a collection of poultry processors.
Previously, R-CALF alleged Agri Stats was used in a conspiracy plan to restrain production and inflate prices in the poultry industry. The original lawsuit reads, “Agri Stats collected and disseminated to the other members of the conspiracy disaggregated financial information, production volumes, capacity, slaughter information, inventory levels and sales data for finished product form and type, amongst other pieces of competitively sensitive business information.”
The consolidated suit, absent Agri Stats, will proceed through trial. The court appointed R-CALF’s counsel, Scott+Scott Attorneys at Law LLP, along with Cafferty Clobes Meriwether & Sprengel LLP, as interim lead counsel in the case. This was done to, in part, “Promote the efficient conduct of this litigation and avoid unnecessary duplication and unproductive efforts…” according to the case amendment.
Originally filed in April, the suits allege the four largest beef packers in the U.S.—making up 80 percent of the market—violated antitrust laws, as well as the Packers and Stockyards Act and Commodity Act by colluding to depress prices paid to producers. The lawsuit claims the depressed prices stretch as far back to at least January 2015. It estimates that fed cattle prices were depressed by an average of 7.9 percent since 2015. — WLJ