As U.S. meat packaging and processing companies persevere to supply the nation’s grocery shelves during the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry finds itself once again under the regulatory spotlight. On May 6, 2020, President Donald Trump asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate allegations that U.S. beef and pork producers violated federal antitrust laws. Just one week prior, the president signed an executive order classifying meat plants as essential infrastructure that must remain open under the Defense Production Act.
These developments reflect only the latest challenges to an industry that generates approximately 5 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. Indeed, the DOJ announced a criminal antitrust investigation into poultry processors in June 2019. That investigation remains ongoing. Additionally, state and federal politicians, including state attorneys general, have initiated numerous investigations into poultry, beef, and pork packing and processing industries. These probes are likely to continue now that the COVID-19 pandemic has refocused regulators’ and public attention on the industry.
If you or your company receives an inquiry relating to any of these investigations or the subsequent civil litigation alleging anticompetitive practices within the U.S. meat industry, it is critical to engage experienced counsel from the outset. Failure to respond in a timely, effective manner may prejudice your ability to raise objections to such requests and may result in a tremendous and avoidable burden in responding to formal requests for information in connection with these matters. Reed Smith’s antitrust and regulatory attorneys are highly experienced in this regard and can help you in responding to those requests at the state and federal level, as well as advising on issues relating to the civil actions to follow. For more information, please contact one of the authors or the Reed Smith lawyer with whom you regularly work.