JBS has agreed to settle claims it conspired to limit supply in the beef market in order to drive up prices, which could spur other settlements in the lawsuit also brought against Tyson, Cargill and National Beef.
The company agreed to pay $52.5 million to a class of “direct purchasers,” represented by grocery stores. The “icebreaker” settlement, as it was called by lawyers for the plaintiffs in a brief supporting the settlement, includes promises by JBS to cooperate as the litigation proceeds.
“While JBS does not admit liability for the claims alleged as part of this case, it believes this decision is in the best interest of the company,” the company said in a statement. “JBS will continue to vigorously defend its interests against the other classes” in cases brought by consumers, commercial beef buyers, and cattle producers.
“The relief provided to the class in this settlement is substantial. As a threshold measure, in a multi-defendant case like this one, the existence of an ‘icebreaker’ settlement is itself valuable to the class, because such settlements often bring remaining defendants to settlement negotiations,” the lawyers said.
The plaintiffs’ lead counsel also said they “believe this remarkable recovery is fair and reasonable in any event, but particularly given the early stage of the litigation, JBS’s market share regarding the products at issue, and the significant cooperation JBS has agreed to provide.”
That cooperation includes a meeting with JBS counsel, who will “summarize the principal facts known to it that are relevant to the alleged conduct, market, and industry participants at issue in the actions, including any facts previously provided to the [Justice Department] or any other U.S. government investigative authority in response to subpoenas or otherwise related to the allegations in the complaint.”
JBS also agreed to provide its “structured data [along with] data, documents, and contact information necessary for facilitating class notice and settlement administration.”
In addition, JBS agreed to provide “up to three current employee witnesses at trial.”
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association responded to the news in a press release describing the settlement announcement as "deeply disturbing.
NCBA CEO Colin Woodall urged the Justice Department to finish its investigation. “It is clear from this settlement that cattle producers still don’t have all the information they have demanded and is deserved. The DOJ has an obligation to finish their investigation. Cattle producers do not have years to wait for the government to determine whether there has been wrongdoing, we demand answers now," he said.
JBS left NCBA in 2021.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who is also the top GOP member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and has taken a special interest in cattle pricing issues, said in a statement the settlement should quash any doubts about the "shenanigans Big Packers play to line their pockets at the expense of consumers and independent producers."
"Although the settlement is a spit in the ocean compared to JBS’ record profit throughout the pandemic, it validates what cattle producers have been telling me when they try to get a fair price in the marketplace. It’s time to put an end to these price fixing schemes once and for all," he said, adding a plug for legislation he has introduced.
Story updated to include Grassley statement.