By Jonathan Stemple
(Reuters) – Smithfield Foods Inc. has agreed to pay $75 million to settle a consumer lawsuit that accused the meat producer and several competitors of conspiring to inflate prices in the $20 billion annually US pork market by limiting supply.
An initial settlement was filed Tuesday evening in federal court in Minneapolis, and requires the approval of U.S. District Judge John Tunheim.
The agreement comes after a judge agreed on September 14 to a similar $20 million settlement between consumers and JBS SA (OTC:), one of Smithfield’s biggest competitors.
Smithfield did not immediately respond to requests for comment after market hours.
Settlement papers showed that Virginia-based Smithfield, a unit of WH Group (OTC:) Ltd, dismissed liability but settled to avoid the uncertainty, risk and cost of litigation.
Several companies have faced lawsuits in Minneapolis and Chicago, too, accusing them of inflating beef and chicken prices.
In the pork case, Smithfield previously reached settlements of $83 million with “direct” buyers such as Mapleval Farms and $42 million with commercial buyers, a restaurant group.
Some of the other defendants Hormel Foods Corp (NYSE :), Tyson Foods Inc (NYSE:) and data provider Agri Stats Inc.
Smithfield agreed to provide cooperation that the plaintiffs’ attorneys said would strengthen their cases against the remaining defendants.
The Biden administration has announced plans to boost competition in the meat sector, amid concerns that some meatpackers may dictate prices and add to inflationary pressures.
The case is in Pork Antitrust Litigation, US District Court, District of Minnesota, No. 18-01776.