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Lawsuit Accuses 4 Meat Processors of Conspiring to Inflate Beef Prices

The largest food distributor in the nation is crying foul on the rising price of beef.

The Sysco Corp. filed a federal lawsuit in Texas last month accusing the world’s four largest meat processors of coordinating to fix the price of beef since at least 2015 by curbing the number of slaughtered cattle. It’s the latest allegation in a growing number of complaints against the industry giants, which include Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill, and National Beef.

The Associated Press was the first to report on the Sysco lawsuit, which is similar to several other suits that have been filed by grocery stores, ranchers, restaurants, and wholesalers in recent years. Those claims have been stalled in Minnesota federal court since 2020, the outlet reported.

According to the court documents obtained by Insider, the Sysco lawsuit accuses the companies of conspiring together to suppress the number of cattle being killed in an effort to increase profits for meat producers by driving down the price of beef for meat processors while simultaneously boosting beef prices. 

The four meat processors named in the suit control more than 80% of the US beef market, according to the suit. 

The lawsuit cites two anonymous witnesses who previously worked in the meat industry and offered direct evidence they said confirmed accusations of a conspiracy. 

“Defendants’ collusive restriction of the beef supply has had the intended effect of artificially inflating beef prices,” the lawsuit alleges. “As a result, Plaintiff paid higher prices than it would have paid in a competitive market.”

Insider reached out to all four meat packers for comment.

The companies have previously defended their business practices against similar price-fixing accusations and legal challenges, according to the AP, claiming that supply and demand, and not competition, drive the price of both beef and cattle. 

Workforce shortages in the industry also intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Sysco lawsuit demands a jury trial.

The lawsuit notes that the Justice Department launched investigations into accusations against the defendants of price fixing in 2020, though the government has yet to provide updates on the probe.  

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