The Department of Justice is seeking information from the nation’s largest meatpackers, a move that provides further indication of an investigation into the practices of the four major players in the industry.

According to a report from Bloomberg, a source familiar with the matter says DOJ sent civil investigative demands to the so-called “big four” meatpackers: Tyson, JBS, Cargill, and National Beef. The department has not publicly confirmed its investigation into beef packers, but when asked about the disparity between prices in the meat case and prices producers receive for live animals, President Donald Trump said he would “ask the Justice Department to look into it.”

“I will ask them to take a very serious look into it, because it shouldn’t be happening that way,” Trump said in May. “And we want to protect our farmers. But they're looking into that very strongly.”

DOJ did not respond to an inquiry from Agri-Pulse. Tyson declined to comment; JBS, Cargill, and National Beef did not respond to a request for comment.

Many have long been critical of the meatpacking sector due to the high level of control exerted by a small amount of companies. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, plants were forced to shut down after outbreaks among workers, a move resulting in shrinkage in processing capacity. Prices offered for live cattle fell while retail prices for steaks, roasts, and ground beef rose, leading to calls for an investigation into the pricing practices.

The Department of Agriculture has been investigating beef pricing practices since last year following a fire at a beef packing plant in Holcomb, Kan. That investigation was expanded to include price disparities in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak.  

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The news comes on the heels of four indictments in a separate investigation into the poultry industry. On Wednesday, a Colorado grand jury indicted executives with Pilgrim’s, including current CEO Jayson Penn, and Claxton Poultry Farms stemming from “an ongoing criminal investigation into price fixing and bid rigging involving broiler chickens.”

In a statement, Claxton said the “allegations attributed to our company are without merit and we intend to vigorously defend our company and its good name as this process moves forward.” Pilgrim’s said it takes “this matter very seriously” and “will continue to fully cooperate with the Department of Justice in their investigation.”

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