CHICAGO — Kraft Heinz Co., Conagra Brands, Inc., Nestle USA Inc. and Nestle Purina Petcare Co. on March 29 filed a lawsuit in Chicago federal court claiming that Tyson Foods, Inc., Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. and other poultry processors conspired to inflate chicken prices.

The poultry companies, listed as defendants, engaged in price fixing from 2008 to 2016, according to the court documents.

The filing says chicken suppliers coordinated to destroy chickens in order to reduce the supply of broilers and drive up prices. 

The suit dealt with the price fixing of broiler chickens “…via unprecedented cuts at the top of the supply chain in the form of jointly and collusively reducing ‘breeder flocks’ that produce chickens ultimately slaughtered for meat consumption.”

The second part of the suit alleged manipulation of broiler chicken prices on the Georgia Dock by a group identified as the “Georgia Dock Defendants,” including Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson Foods, Fieldale Farms, Perdue, Sanderson Farms, Koch Foods, Claxton Poultry, Harrison Poultry, Mar-Jac and Wayne Farms.

“Senior executives from eight of the 10 Georgia Dock Defendants were members of a secretive ‘Georgia Dock Advisory Board,’ which played a role in the compilation and manipulation of the Georgia Dock benchmark price," the court documents said.

 “Follow-on complaints like these are common in antitrust litigation,” Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said in an e-mailed statement. “Such complaints do not change our position that the claims are unfounded. We will continue to vigorously defend our company.”

Other defendants named in the latest lawsuit include House of Raeford Farms Inc., Fieldale Farms Corp., George’s Inc., Simmons Foods Inc., O.K. Foods Inc., Foster Farms L.L.C., Mountaire Farms Inc. and Agri Stats Inc.

Poultry companies have faced ongoing litigation with price fixing for the last few years.

In January, Darden Restaurants Inc., parent company of Olive Garden, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen and Longhorn Steakhouse, filed an antitrust suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois based on similar allegations.

In June 2018, another group of companies opted out of the class-action suit when meat distributors and grocery companies filed a federal antitrust lawsuit of its own (Action Meat Distributors, Inc. et al v. Norman W. Fries, Inc., d/b/a Claxton Poultry Farms, Inc. et al, case number 1:18-cv-03471) in the same district court, alleging a “cartel” of US chicken producers illegally raised the price of broiler chickens from at least Jan. 1, 2008, through Dec. 31, 2016.

On November 2018, attorneys for Fieldale Farms and plaintiffs filed a motion to approve a settlement from the company to release it from the lawsuit.