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Know the West

Ranchers sue major meatpackers

Plaintiffs allege ‘The Big Four’ conspired to reduce cattle prices.


In Wyoming, a rancher oversees operations at Lucky 7 Angus Ranch.
Courtesy of Lucky 7 Angus Ranch

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For years, ranchers have wrestled with “The Big Four” meatpackers — JBS, Tyson, Cargill and National Beef. Ranchers and organizations like the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund say the meatpackers that slaughter and process beef treat independent stockgrowers like employees by using short-term contracts and other forms of economic pressure, making it increasingly hard to get a fair price for cattle (“Cattlemen struggle against giant meatpackers and economic squeezes,” HCN, 3/21/11).


In late April, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America led a group of plaintiffs in filing a lawsuit in Illinois against the Big Four and other meatpackers, alleging that the companies conspired to depress cattle prices for their own gain. As The New Food Economy wrote, “The point, according to the suit, was to make ranchers desperate enough to take greatly reduced prices for their animals, even during an era of rising beef prices.”