Have We Been Paying Way Too Much For Chicken?

By Mike Pomranz |

© suriya silsaksom/Getty Images

If you’re looking for a quick family dinner, grabbing a rotisserie chicken from your local supermarket has always been a pretty safe bet. The meal is definitely easy, typically tasty and, by most people’s standards, pretty damn cheap for what you get. But though you have multiple reasons to feel good as you chow down, a recent lawsuit alleges you’re actually getting hosed. The suit claims that the birds should be as much as 50 percent cheaper, but its price has been inflated thanks to collusion within the poultry industry.

According to Bloomberg, a lawsuit filed in Chicago federal court earlier this month suggests that the producers behind 90 percent of American chickens have been sharing information to artificially inflate the price of their products for nearly a decade – primarily through unnecessary cuts to supply. “We believe there are real anomalies in the broiler chicken market that have increased prices,” Joe Bruckner, a lawyer involved with the case, was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, the companies named in the suit, including well-known brands like Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride deny any wrongdoing, instead blaming the huge surge in prices since 2008, which is when the suit alleges the collusion began, on increased costs for corn-based chicken feed thanks to the recent push to use more corn for ethanol – a convenient political scapegoat whether it’s true or not.


Regardless of what’s behind it, the price of a standard broiler chicken (the breed we typically eat) is significantly up from about $1.50 per pound in 2006 to closer to $2 per pound during a recent peak. But as Bloomberg points out, proving that this increase is due to an illegal industry conspiracy can be tricky. “You’re asking the court to infer collusion,” Peter Carstensen, a former antitrust lawyer for the US Department of Justice, was quoted as saying. However, he said doing so isn’t impossible.

If the lawsuit is successful, the plaintiffs are looking to stop this alleged misconduct and want triple damages. That could buy a lot of chicken… at any price.


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