The US Department of Justice has reportedly issued an order to meat firms Tyson Foods, Cargill, National Beef Packing Co. and Brazil-based JBS for information over possible anti-trust violations.

A person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg last Thursday (4 June) the Department of Justice (DoJ) has formally demanded the information from the four companies in what the news agency said effectively amounts to a subpoena.

The DoJ’s antitrust division has sent civil investigative demands to the firms and is in talks with attorneys after a group of states called for a probe, according to the person cited by Bloomberg, who declined to be named because the inquiry is confidential.

just-food has asked for a response from all four meat processors. The DoJ, meanwhile, said it had no statement to offer “at this time”. 

Bloomberg said Tyson, Cargill, National Beef, which is owned by Brazil’s Marfrig Global Foods, and Cargill, control more than 80% of the US beef processing market, and that their dominance has led to “long-standing concerns about their pricing power over livestock suppliers”. 

While Bloomberg noted no response to its questions from Tyson, Cargill and JBS as of last Thursday, National Beef confirmed it had received a civil investigative demand from the DoJ.

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“The request was very narrow in scope, which leads us to believe that the DoJ does not necessarily believe there is an antitrust issue,” the company informed the news agency.

Global meat processors have had a hard time of late dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, which has prompted many to temporarily close plants and furlough workers to curb its spread.

Last week, just-food’s parent company, London-based GlobalData, proposed long-term disruption in the meat industry caused by Covid-19 could be detrimental to consumer confidence as the sector struggles to ensure worker safety.

And in another case of alleged price manipulation, Jayson Penn, the president and CEO of US poultry giant Pilgrim’s Pride, has been indicted along with three others by the DoJ in relation to a chicken price-fixing investigation dating back to 2012 and running through to 2017.

A grand jury in Denver indicted Penn alongside Roger Austin, a former Pilgrim’s vice president, Mikell Fries, the president of Georgia-based chicken supplier Claxton Poultry, and Scott Brady, a vice president at Claxton.