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For 40 years, Big Meat has openly colluded to rig prices

Pluralistic: “For 40 years, Big Meat has openly colluded to rig prices (permalink)…Let me tell you about Agri Stats. Agri Stats has been around since 1985. Every large meat packer pays to be a “member” of Agri Stats, and they each submit weekly, detailed statistics about every aspect of their business: all their costs, all their margins, broken out by category. Agri Stats compiles this into phone-book-thick books that each member gets every week, telling them everything about how all of their competitors are running their businesses: The companies whose data appears in this book are anonymized, but it’s trivial to re-identify each supplier. Tyson execs hold regular “naming process” meetings where they go through new books and de-anonymize the data. A Butterball exec confirmed that he “can pick the companies for rankings with 100% certainty.” As David Dayen writes in The American Prospect, these books are incredibly detailed: “bird weights, freezer inventory, and ‘head killed per operating hour.'” Within the cozy meat cartels, Agri Stats acts as a clearinghouse that allows every business in the industry to act in concert, running the entire meat-packing sector as a single company. As interesting as the list of Agri Stats members is, the groups that don’t get to see Agri Stats’ “books” is just as important: “farmers, workers, or retailers.” Agri Stats also offers consulting services to its members. As an exec at pork processor Smithfield put it, Agri Stats advice boils down to four words “Just raise your price.” Agri Stats ranks its members based on how high their prices are – they literally publish a league table with the highest prices at the top. Meat packers pay bonuses to their execs based on how high the company’s rank is on that table. Agri Stats meets with its members throughout the year to discuss “price opportunities” and to advise them to “exercise restraint” by restricting supply to keep prices up. When one Agri Stats member considered leaving the cartel, Agri Stats wooed them back by telling them how to make an additional $100k by raising bacon prices…”

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