The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has begun a criminal investigation into whether some of the country’s largest poultry processors – including Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride and Sanderson Farms – have been involved in price fixing.

The allegations of collusion, made by US consumers, distributors, grocery chains and other food groups, which have filed lawsuits against more than a dozen firms, have now been taken up at a government level in proceedings titled Broiler Chicken Antitrust Litigation.

The DoJ has effectively intervened in what was until now a civil case.

According to news agency Reuters, which has seen the court filing, the DoJ filed a motion on Friday (21 June) in Chicago to “intervene and stay discovery of evidence in an antitrust lawsuit involving the companies and has convened a grand jury to investigate”.

The allegations are that the meat companies have colluded since 2008 to reduce output and manipulate prices.

The three-largest companies named have been quick to deny the allegations.

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By GlobalData

A spokesperson for Pilgrim’s Pride told Reuters: “Pilgrim’s strongly denies any allegations of anti-competitive conduct. The company welcomes the opportunity to defend itself against these claims through the legal process.”

It told the news service it has not been subpoenaed in connection with the DoJ investigation.

Meanwhile, Tyson told broadcaster CNBC: “We are aware of the Department of Justice’s request, which does not change our view that there is simply no merit to the allegations that Tyson Foods colluded with competitors. We remain committed to vigorously defending ourselves against these baseless allegations.” 

Sanderson Farms has issued a statement – seen by just-food – in regard to the DoJ action.

It confirmed the DoJ filing and added: “The company has not been subpoenaed in connection with the Department of Justice investigation. The company continues to believe the civil plaintiffs’ claims as to Sanderson Farms are wholly without merit, and we are committed to defending the case vigorously.”