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Beef packer antitrust case dismissed

Case alleged nation's largest meat packers conspired to fix and suppress price of fed cattle.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota has dismissed antitrust litigation filed against beef packers JBS USA, Cargill Inc., National Beef Packing Co. and Tyson Foods Inc. alleging that the nation's largest meat packers conspired to fix and suppress the price of fed cattle, in violation of federal and state antitrust laws.

The court found that the plaintiff group had not "pleaded their direct evidence with sufficient detail, and ... they have not pleaded parallel conduct sufficient to support an inference of a price-fixing conspiracy," chief Judge John R. Tunheim said in the Sept. 29 filing.

The case had consolidated several separately filed class action cases with two sets of plaintiffs: institutional/organizational plaintiffs Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) and Farmers Educational & Cooperative Union of America (Farmers Union), and a group of individual and business plaintiffs who sold fed cattle directly to one or more of the defendants.

The case centered on allegations of anticompetitive behavior related to reduced slaughter volume in 2015 and the "queuing convention" purported by a confidential witness who described a "complicated system" for determining the price of cash sales akin to right-of-first-refusal agreements.

Tunheim found that "merely cutting back slaughter volume in a single year cannot, itself, serve as the anticompetitive basis for a claim" and that the "queuing convention" allegations were insufficient to independently support a Packers & Stockyards Act claim.

Tunheim's order grants the plaintiffs 90 days to file amended complaints.

A Cargill spokesperson told Feedstuffs that the company is pleased with the court's decision to dismiss the case. 

"For many years, we have served as a trusted partner to American cattle ranchers, committed to supporting their family farms and livelihoods. We are confident in our efforts to maintain market integrity and conduct ethical business," the spokesperson said.

At press time, JBS USA, National Beef Packing and Tyson Foods had not provided a statement.

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