WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. – The CEO of Pilgrim’s Pride is one of four current and former chicken-company executives indicted Wednesday on charges of price-fixing.
The U.S. Department of Justice said a federal grand jury in Colorado found that executives from Greeley, Colo.-based Pilgrim’s Pride and Claxton, Ga.-based Claxton Poultry Farms conspired to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chickens from at least 2012 to 2017.
Pilgrim’s Pride, which runs a plant in Cold Spring, Minn., is majority-owned by Brazilian meat giant JBS and is the second-largest U.S. chicken company behind Tyson.
Pilgrim’s Pride President and CEO Jayson Penn was charged, along with former Pilgrim’s Pride vice president Roger Austin.
Claxton Poultry President Mikell Fries and vice president Scott Brady also were charged.
All four men are scheduled to appear before a magistrate judge in Denver federal court Thursday afternoon, according to court documents. The Associated Press left phone and e-mail messages seeking comment with Pilgrim’s Pride.
A spokesman for Claxton Poultry said the company had no comment.
The charges came amid questions about the high price of meat during the coronavirus pandemic.
Pilgrim’s Pride bought the Cold Spring plant, which employs 1,100, in 2017 when it acquired GNP, which sold chicken under the Gold’n Plump brand.
The plant has been the site of the largest COVID-19 workplace outbreak in Minnesota outside of JBS’ sprawling pork plant in Worthington.
Last month, attorneys general for 11 Midwestern states urged the Justice Department to investigate potential price fixing by meatpackers.
And in an April tweet, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue confirmed that the Department of Agriculture was investigating why ranchers are getting low prices for cattle while U.S. consumers are paying record prices for beef.
Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. shares tumbled more than 12% Wednesday. Tyson Foods Inc. shares ended down almost 4%.