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A New Lawsuit Accuses the 'Big Four' Beef Packers of Conspiring to Fix Cattle Prices

The plaintiffs, a group of feedlot operators, say companies like JBS and Tyson Foods illegally plotted to use various means—including strategic plant closures—to force desperate ranchers into selling their animals more cheaply.

A group of plaintiffs led by Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) on Tuesday filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that a group of U.S. meatpackers engaged in a vast conspiracy to artificially depress cattle prices—resulting in lower prices for producers and record profits for the industry. The defendants include the companies known as the “Big Four”: Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill, and National Beef, as well as several others. 

According to the plaintiffs, a group of Midwestern feedlot operators, the alleged scheme involved a range of coordinated anti-competitive actions, from strategically shuttering slaughter plants to forcing feedlots to abide by overly restrictive buying agreements. The point, according to the suit, was to make ranchers desperate enough to take greatly reduced prices for their animals, even during an era of rising beef prices.

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