Attorney General Keith Ellison. Photo by House Information Services.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is joining a federal lawsuit against data services company Agri Stats, accusing the company of facilitating widespread price- and wage-fixing in the meat industry.
Ellison announced the move Monday, two weeks after a visit from Jonathan Kanter, assistant attorney general for the antitrust division in the U.S. Department of Justice, which is leading the civil lawsuit filed in September in the U.S. District Court in Minnesota. Attorneys general from California, North Carolina and Tennessee have also joined the lawsuit.
The U.S. meat industry is highly concentrated, with a handful of powerful companies controlling the majority of the markets for pork, chicken, beef, eggs and turkey.
Indiana-based Agri Stats collects and distributes detailed information on meat companies through “loosely anonymized” reports including input costs, retail sales and output, according to the complaint. Those reports allowed the companies to raise prices and increase profits, the DOJ alleges.
“A big reason why our paychecks aren’t covering as much as they used to is because corporate profiteers are manipulating markets to line their pockets and stifle competition,” Ellison said in a news release Monday. “Agri Stats’ illegal information sharing makes it harder for people to afford their lives by helping big meat processors coordinate with one another to keep food prices artificially high.”
Justin Bernick, a lawyer for Agri Stats, said the addition of the state plaintiffs to the DOJ lawsuit does not overcome the DOJ’s “failure to show how Agri Stats reports could possibly result in higher prices.”
“The fact that Minnesota, California, North Carolina, and Tennessee jumped on DOJ’s bandwagon to gang up on a Fort Wayne small business—without ever even asking Agri Stats a single question about the company’s reports—is a sad commentary on their due diligence in antitrust enforcement,” Bernick said in a statement provided to the Reformer.
Agri Stats provided reports to most of the major U.S. meat companies, including Minnesota-based corporations Hormel and Jennie-O.
JBS, a Brazilian company also implicated in the lawsuit, owns a large pork processing plant in Worthington and a poultry plant in Cold Spring.
Agri Stats also supplied its member companies with reports on employee compensation and payments to farmers, according to the complaint.
Minnesota joining the federal suit is another sign of the state agency’s focus on antitrust enforcement, in part due to increased funding for additional antitrust attorneys allocated by the DFL-controlled state Legislature earlier this year.
Ellison also recently joined the Federal Trade Commission and 16 other states in suing Amazon for illegally maintaining monopolies.
In a press release posted to the company’s website in September, Agri Stats called the DOJ lawsuit “wrong on the law” and said its services are beneficial for consumers:
“The lawsuit threatens serious harm to American consumers of chicken, pork, and turkey because protein producers depend upon Agri Stats’ reports to help them identify opportunities to reduce production costs to keep prices low.”
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