Wall Street is panicking about claims of a massive conspiracy to hike US chicken prices

Industry clipped it’s own wings?
Industry clipped it’s own wings?
Image: Reuters/Rodolfo Buhrer
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Claims that the US poultry industry conspired to pull off one of the biggest food-related price manipulations in American history just got wings.

An analyst at Pivotal Research issued a scathing report today (Oct. 7) on Tyson Foods that draws from an antitrust class action lawsuit filed in September. The firm advised its clients to sell their shares of Tyson, and lowered its price target on the company by more than 40%, to $40 per share. For weeks the stock price had been hovering around $75.

Tyson’s shares have tumbled about 10% so far today, illustrating how seriously Wall Street is now taking the claims in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and led by New York-based middleman food distributor Maplevale Farms, alleges the $29 billion poultry industry colluded to control supply and artificially inflate prices, according to Bloomberg. The scheme allegedly began in 2007 and it’s purported to still be in effect. If it’s true, it would mean that for years consumers may have been paying up to 50% more for chicken than what the market would naturally require. It would also suggest that some of the largest chicken and turkey producing companies on the planet—Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, and Simmons Foods—were operating in cahoots rather than engaging in healthy, competitive market practices. Shares in Pilgrim’s Pride are down almost 5% today.

Here’s what the lawsuit alleges:

  • The poultry industry worked in concert to cut production.
  • They cut production by going deep into the supply chain, actually killing chickens before they could marketed them, and diminishing flock sizes to control egg production.
  • The companies exchanged proprietary data through a data service called Agri Stats.

The Pivotal Research analyst report appears to have shaken the industry a bit:

Whether the industry engaged in illegal, anticompetitive behavior usually winds up in the hands of the Justice Department, but the Obama administration has not given any hint yet on whether it will pursue the case.