Of course, they denied it. We didn't do anything wrong. There ain't any liability! Such was the tired worn-out rhetoric of Pilgrim's Pride Corporation and Tyson Foods, Inc in agreeing to settle a long-running civil suit filed by Maplevale Farms claiming the two Big-Meat giants fixed prices on broiler chickens.
Pilgrim’s Pride, whose majority owners is Brazil's JBS SA, will pay $75 million dollars to make the lawsuit go away. Pilgrim’s Pride released details of the settlement in a U.S. Securities Exchange Commission filing and an announcement to shareholders.
Tyson Foods agreed to pay $221.5 million dollars with the settlement also outlined in a U.S Securities Exchange Commission filing and is expected to be reflected on the company's first quarter financial statement.
$296.5 million dollars. For most of us hard-working stiffs that ain't chicken feed, but for Big-Meat it's a slap on the wing. Both deals require the official okey-dokey from The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
In its SEC filing Tyson Chief Financial Officer Stewart Glendinng wrote:
"While the company does not admit any liability as part of the settlements, it believes that the settlements were in the best interests of the company and its shareholders in order to avoid the uncertainty, risk, expense and distraction of protracted litigation."
Not to be outdone Pilgrim’s Pride President and Chief Executive Officer Fabio Sandri wrote in its SEC filing:
“While Pilgrim’s does not admit any liability for the claims alleged in the Broiler Antitrust Civil Litigation, it believes a settlement was in the best interests of the Company and its shareholders.”
Is there a college class for prospective Big-Meat CEOs to handle scandals? Mea Culpa 101?
Anyway, neither Pilgrims Farm nor Tyson is yet completely off the hook. The settlement doesn't include claims from a raft of “indirect purchasers” including Chick-fil-A, Kroger Company, Target and your average shopper on the street.
And a couple of other Big-Meat companies – Perdue Farms Inc. and Sanderson Farms Inc. are still twisting in the wind of the lawsuit, but it probably won't be long till they also have shiny new settlements.
Does anyone out there besides Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride family members really believe there wasn't any price-fixing? Nah, I didn't think so. And if it isn't clear by now, it surely will be if the Department of Justice Antitrust Division has its way.
Last June the DOJ indicted Pilgrim’s Pride CEO Jason Penn, former Pilgrim’s Pride vice president Roger Austin, Claxton Poultry Farms president Mikell Fries and Claxton vice president Scott Brady participated in a “network of suppliers and co-conspirators” in order to fix prices and rig bids for chicken sales to restaurants and groceries.
The list of indicted Big-Meat big wings has since swelled to ten. And that's a problem for Big-Meat's we didn't do it, there ain't no liability story. Because if any of these Big-Meat CEO geniuses are convicted the sheen of deniability fades away like the morning cluck-a-doodle-dew.
About Dave Dickey
Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for the Midwest Center covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.