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Pilgrim’s Pride CEO indicted on price fixing charges

The US Department of Justice has indicted the chief executive of Pilgrim’s Pride Corp and three other current and former industry executives for allegedly seeking to fix the price of chickens.

4 June 2020, at 8:14am

Reuters reports that the charges are the first in a larger criminal probe investigating price fixing and bid rigging of broiler chickens. Broiler chickens make up the bulk of meat sales in the US.

A grand jury in Denver indicted Jayson Penn, the president and CEO of Pilgrim's Pride, which is mostly owned by Brazilian meat packer JBS SA, as well as a former executive at the Colorado-based chicken supplier, the Justice Department said in a statement. Two executives from a Georgia chicken producer were also indicted.

The indictments come after grocers, retailers and consumers accused Pilgrim's Pride, Tyson Foods Inc and other poultry processors in a lawsuit of conspiring since 2008 to inflate prices for broiler chickens. The companies have denied the allegations.

"Executives who cheat American consumers, restaurateurs, and grocers, and compromise the integrity of our food supply, will be held responsible for their actions," said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, head of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.

Pilgrim's Pride shares plummeted 12 percent, while shares for rivals Tyson Foods and Sanderson Farms dropped about 4 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

Pilgrim's Pride said it would cooperate with the Justice Department in their investigation.

The indictment says a conspiracy to fix chicken prices ran from 2012 until at least early 2017 and cites executives' text messages and emails.

In addition to Penn, the indicted executives were Roger Austin, a former Pilgrim's vice president; the president of Claxton Poultry, Mikell Fries; and Scott Brady, a vice president at Claxton.

A spokesman for Claxton, which says it supplies Chick-fil-A, declined to comment, and a lawyer for Claxton did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The indicted individuals could not immediately be reached.

Read more about this story on Reuters.