Pilgrim’s Pride, one of the largest poultry producers in the U.S., said on Wednesday it would pay $110.5 million to settle federal charges that it helped fix prices and then passed on higher costs for chicken to consumers, restaurants and supermarkets.
The company — based in Colorado and with a plant in Cold Spring — said it had agreed to the fine for “restraint of competition” in chicken sales in three contracts to a customer in the United States, according to the statement. The settlement, reached with the Department of Justice, will need to be approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
The settlement comes after federal prosecutors ramped up pressure on top industry executives. In June, prosecutors indicted Jayson Penn, who was then president and chief executive of Pilgrim’s Pride, and Roger Austin, its former vice president, on a price-fixing charge. Penn later left the company.
Justice Department officials were not immediately available for comment.
Pilgrim’s Pride is majority-owned by Brazilian meat giant JBS and is the second-largest U.S. chicken company behind Tyson. JBS also runs a big pork-processing plant in Worthington.
A settlement could help ease pressure on Pilgrim’s Pride, which is among a number of major poultry producers that have been contending with price-fixing allegations for years.
Pilgrim’s Pride said the agreement included a provision that the Justice Department would not bring any more charges against the company on this matter. The company also noted that it would not have to pay any restitution or be subject to monitoring under the agreement.
Last year, the Justice Department intervened in a lawsuit brought by major chicken customers against Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson Foods and other producers. The lawsuit said the companies colluded to fix the prices of broiler chickens, which make up the vast majority of all the chicken meat sold in the United States. The customers noted that chicken prices were rising even while feed costs were falling.
The companies disputed the allegations.
In 2019, Pilgrim’s Pride reported $11.4 billion in sales. It said the $110.5 million fine would be recorded as a “miscellaneous expense” in its next quarterly report.