‘Is this legal?’: Why an obscure data service has been sued nearly 100 times for facilitating anti-competitive behavior

Eli Hoff is a Gary Marx Journalism Fund intern. In the mid-2000s, a poultry researcher approached James MacDonald, then a branch chief for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, with some data. Its detail and depth shocked him. “My reaction was, ‘Jeez, is this legal?’” MacDonald said. The question remains unanswered, albeit not for lack of trying: Agri Stats — a widely utilized, privately-held data and analytics firm for the meat processing industry — has been named in more than 90 lawsuits since 2016, making it the second-most sued company in the industry over that time span (Tyson Foods is first).

OPINION: Courts need to end Big Meat data sharing

Big Meat's secret weapon is a company called Agri Stats. Every week a bunch of Big Meat companies send Agri Stats a raft load of internal sales documents which Agri Stats merges into a industry wide sales report and sends back to subscribers. Agri Stats and those reports are at the heart of numerous lawsuits alleging that the reporting system allows Big Meat to participate in illegal anticompetitive activity.