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Cattle Antitrust Class Action Lawsuit Proceeds

By: Sydney Sheffield 

The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) have recently been involved in two cases related to the beef industry. The first against the nation’s 4 largest beef producers and the second against the Beef Checkoff Program.  

A federal judge in Minnesota ruled in favor of R-CALF USA and denied the motion of the nation’s 4 largest beef packers (JBS, Tyson, National Beef, and Cargill) to dismiss the class action antitrust lawsuit. The suit was originally filed in April 2019. The plaintiffs allege that the companies have violated the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 by conspiring to suppress the price of cattle and increasing the price of beef. The case now enters the discovery phase of the trial, where evidence and information will be presented to demonstrate how packers violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, the Packers and Stockyards Act, and the Commodity Exchange Act.

“We are pleased the effort to restore pricing transparency and competitiveness to the cattle markets is moving forward in the courtroom. This case is nearly two-and-a-half years old, and we look forward to the next step in the litigation,” said Rob Larew, President, National Farmers Union, a fellow plaintiff on the case. “As the case moves to discovery, NFU will continue to hold the packers accountable. Malfeasance in the cattle markets has been very damaging to independent farmers and ranchers, and we look forward to continuing to advocate for our members in the courtroom.”

In the second case, a U.S. District Court judge in the District of Columbia denied a claim by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), stating that ranchers have alleged they have “associational standing” to challenge USDA’s practices. R-CALF USA alleges USDA "substantively amended" the program by entering into certain agreements with state beef councils without following notice-and-comment rulemaking. However, the ruling said, "it does not resolve the factual question whether R-CALF actually has standing to make its challenge." This case will also now enter a discovery phase. 

“As a federal agency, the USDA is authorized only to carry out federal statutes, and if conditions change and the implementing regulations for the statutes need to be changed, then the agency is obligated to involve the people and entities it regulates in a transparent process. This is an example where the USDA, instead, is attempting to run roughshod over those it regulates,” said Bill Bullard, R-CALF USA CEO. 

Greg Hanes, CEO of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board stated when asked about R-CALF USA and the suit, “They're in a minority as far as the producers, but they're vocal and so people hear it, and it causes questions. I think that's what we're trying to get out there is to make sure that people see the facts and don't get just led astray by a lot of the misinformation.”