By Leah Douglas
(Reuters) -The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday filed an antitrust lawsuit against data company Agri Stats, alleging that its weekly reports on meat pricing and sales have enabled anticompetitive practices in the chicken, pork, and turkey industries.
Meat companies including Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods have previously faced lawsuits from restaurants and other food buyers alleging they use reports from Agri Stats to conspire to drive up meat prices.
“Agri Stats operates its information exchanges to promote total industry profits at the expense of competition,” said the DOJ’s complaint.
Attorney Justin Bernick of law firm Hogan Lovells, which is representing Agri Stats in the DOJ case, said the company denies the allegations.
“Agri Stats provides vital benchmarking services that help keep production costs and prices low for consumers,” Bernick said in an email.
Meat processors pay millions of dollars for Agri Stats reports that include “loosely anonymized” cost, output, and price information, which the companies then use to align their prices with competitors, the DOJ complaint said.
In one example laid out in the complaint, Tyson Foods in January 2010 allegedly told its sales employees to use Agri Stats data to negotiate for higher prices from retail buyers.
Tyson did not respond to questions about whether the company uses Agri Stats reports or provide comment on the lawsuit.
The companies using Agri Stats reports account for more than 90% of broiler chicken, 80% of pork, and 90% of turkey sales in the U.S., the DOJ said in a press release.
(Reporting by Leah Douglas; editing by Barbara Lewis and Leslie Adler)
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