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Email Content: Poultry Industry News, Comments and more by Simon M. Shane

Washington State Attorney General Enters Broiler Conspiracy Lawsuit


According to news report in the Seattle Times, Bob Ferguson, Washington State Attorney General has entered the ongoing lawsuit alleging collusion among broiler producers to adjust production volume and enhance price.


The suit was filed in the King County Superior Court alleging illegal anticompetitive conduct to coordinate, supply and manipulate pricing.  Attorney General Ferguson maintains that industry activities violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act.  The suit names 19 broiler integrators and AgriStats as plaintiffs.


At issue is the use of AgriStats benchmark price and production data.  As with the claims advanced by direct and indirect purchasers of chicken, the lawsuit maintains that integrators were able to restrict supply based on information contained in monthly AgriStats reports.  The Washington State lawsuit alleges that companies coordinated placement and depletion of breeder flocks to adjust the supply of broilers in order to maximize unit revenue and hence profit.


A second component of the claim relates to the presentation of AgriStats data that allowed individual integrators to identify data submitted by their competitors. The lawsuit claims that this led to an indirect exchange of business information that could be construed as anticompetitive.


It is a matter of record that a number of lawsuits have been settled with institutional purchasers eligible to receive damages.  The lawsuit filed by Attorney General Ferguson is intended benefit up to 7 million residents of Washington State together with hospitals, colleges and other institutions that it is claimed paid more for chicken had there not been alleged indirect collusion.  If the State of Washington claim is isolated, legal costs to defend the action will be relatively limited. If more states attorneys general file claims, the cost of defending or settling lawsuits will attain immense proportions. 


Many attorneys general are facing reelection within two years and initiating litigation may be more to burnish their individual and collective images rather than attempting to correct spurious losses that will be difficult if not impossible to quantify.  The tenor of the office of the attorney general is characterized by a statement issued by A/G Ferguson, “This conspiracy cost middle-class and low-class income Washington families more money to put food on their table.  I will hold these companies accountable for the profits they illegally made off the backs of hard working Washington families.”

Copyright © 2022 Simon M. Shane