U.S. Chicken Producers Accused of Conspiracy to Manipulate Meat Prices in Washington

19 major U.S. chicken producers have been accused of taking part in an illegal conspiracy to manipulate and inflate their prices, according to a new lawsuit filed by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Ferguson announced Tuesday that the companies named in the lawsuit—which includes Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms and Koch Foods—account for nearly all of the chicken produced for meat in the U.S. In addition, roughly 90 percent of Washington consumers, or 7 million people, purchase these companies' products.

"If you've eaten chicken in the last decade, this conspiracy touched your wallet," Ferguson said in a statement. "This conspiracy cost middle-class and low-income Washington families more money to put food on their table. I will hold these companies accountable for the profits they illegally made off the backs of hardworking Washington families."

The lawsuit alleges that the companies engaged in a coordinated effort to reduce production and therefore manipulate chicken pricing between 2008-2009 and 2011-2012.

U.S. Chicken Producers Sued
Nineteen major U.S. chicken producers are being sued by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson over allegations of conspiring to inflate prices. Here, chicken sits on the shelf at a grocery store in Washington, D.C., on April 28, 2020. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As a result, Ferguson alleges that chicken prices rose throughout 2008 and remained near all-time highs as the country fell into a financial recession. Two years later, the companies again conspired to coordinate a second round of production cuts and increase prices, according to the lawsuit.

Ferguson's office pointed to a series of industry-wide email exchanges, text messages and call logs as evidence of the illegal conduct. In one exchange, internal communications within Pilgrim's Pride food production company revealed that one executive allegedly admitted to engaging in conversations that were "not exactly" legal.

"I received a call today from a friendly competitor telling me it's all over the market that Pilgrim's is taking contract pricing up," one Pilgrim's Pride employee wrote in the exchange, according to the lawsuit. "They thanked us for taking the lead and told me that contrary to what we might hear regarding their company, they are following as are others. Courage...keep it up guys."

Ferguson's lawsuit alleges that the companies' conduct violated Washington's antitrust laws and the Washington Consumer Protection Act. The Attorney General is seeking millions of dollars in restitution from the companies on behalf of Washington state residents.

The companies named in the lawsuit include Tyson Foods Inc., Pilgrim's Pride Corp., Sanderson Farms Inc., Perdue Farms Inc., Koch Foods Inc., Foster Farms LLC, Mountaire Farms Inc., Wayne Farms LLC, Amick Farms LLC, George's Inc., Peco Foods Inc., House of Raeford Inc., Fieldale Farms Corp., Case Foods Inc. Mar-Jac Poultry, Claxton Poultry Farms, Simmons Foods Inc., O.K. Foods Inc., and Harrison Poultry Inc.

Newsweek contacted several companies named in the lawsuit for comment. A spokesperson for Perdue Foods declined to comment.