Chicken, beef companies face price fixing investigations as they say coronavirus limits supply

Beef prices more than doubled in May

The Justice Department is examining allegations of price fixing across the meat industry as consumers and grocers continue to worry about meat shortages or price spikes caused by coronavirus.

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Beef prices more than doubled in May as the meat industry blamed shortages on processing bottlenecks caused by employee absences at meatpacking plants. However, USDA data shows that there was more frozen red meat in cold storage on April 30, 2020, than April 30, 2019.

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Even as meat prices have spiked, Kroger was able to keep prices reasonable, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said on Thursday.

Cattle occupy a feedlot in Columbus, Neb., Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

"We continue to do everything we can to minimize any cost increases," McMullen told "Mornings with Maria." "If you look at meat, we've not even close passed through the cost that we've incurred."

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is investigating claims the four largest U.S. meatpackers fixed prices amid the coronavirus pandemic, a person familiar with the investigation told FOX News. It's also looking at older allegations of price fixing in the poultry industry involving Pilgrim's Pride and Claxton Poultry Farms and indicted current and former executives include Pilgrim's CEO Jayson Penn.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and attorneys general from western and midwestern states pushed the Justice Department to look into claims that Cargill, National Beef, Tyson Foods and JBS were driving down the price of cattle and raising the price of packaged beef amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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"It would be inappropriate for the Meat Institute to speculate about any actions of the Department of Justice," a spokesperson for the North American Meat Institute, a trade group that represents the four companies and others, told FOX Business.

In addition, a recent class action lawsuit against the four companies brought by Central Grocers in a Minnesota court alleges they have fixed prices since 2015, Beef Magazine reported.

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Cargill and Tyson declined to comment on the suit. FOX Business' inquiries to National Beef and JBS were not immediately returned.

FOX Business' Edward Lawrence contributed to this report.