Chicken Price-Fixing Suit Ends In Mistrail Again

The US Department of Justice has once again failed to prove price-fixing in the chicken industry. Now, before it tries for a third time, a federal judge in Denver is demanding an explanation, reported Bloomberg.

“I am going to order that the head of the antitrust division come in here within the next week and look me in the eye and explain to me why the government is going to retry this case,” U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer said Tuesday.

The judge declared a mistrial after jurors were unable to reach a verdict on criminal charges against 10 men who worked for companies including Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride and Perdue Farms.  In December, an earlier trial of the same defendants also ended in a deadlock.

But when a prosecutor told Brimmer that a third trial was planned, the judge expressed skepticism and said he’d issue the order for an appearance by the head of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter.

“If the government thinks that the 10 defendants and their attorneys and my staff and another group of jurors should spend six weeks retrying this case after the government has failed in two attempts to convict even one defendant, then certainly Mr. Kanter has the time to come to Denver and explain to me why the Department of Justice thinks that that is an appropriate thing to do,” Brimmer said.

The failure of two juries to return verdicts for any of the defendants suggests a split on the government’s claim of an eight-year conspiracy to fix prices in the massive chicken market. It’s a serious blow to government efforts to police competition in food markets at a time of rising prices. The men face fines and prison if convicted.

An original charge against the poultry industry was filed by food distributor Maplevale Farms in September 2016, accusing Tyson Foods, Koch Foods, Perdue Farms, and several other major poultry processors. The complaint alleged that the defendants conspired as early as January 2008 to “fix, raise, maintain, and stabilize the price of Broilers…”

The poultry industry has had repeated encounters with antitrust authorities in the United States, with major companies including Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride facing inquiries over various attempts to manipulate prices and fix the wages of their workforce.

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