BILLINGS, Mont. n R-CALF USA n along with 36 local, state and tribal groups that represent independent cattle producers across the nation n jointly filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Feb. 10 asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a recent decision by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (11th Circuit) on price manipulation in the meatpacking industry (Pickett v. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc.).
In the brief, R-CALF USA argues that failure to review the 11th Circuit’s decision could profoundly undermine the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 , a key component of U.S. law, which regulates market abuses by the meatpacking industry.
“This case deserves the Supreme Court’s attention,” said R-CALF USA President Chuck Kiker. “The PSA was enacted to rein in the worst excesses of a highly concentrated meatpacking industry at the beginning of the last century.
“The industry is again becoming highly consolidated, and today, meatpackers use increasingly sophisticated techniques to deny cattle producers an honest price for their product,” Kiker said. “Independent cattle producers have been deeply concerned for many years over the packing industry’s captive-supply practices, and a review of the Pickett case by the Supreme Court will help clarify whether these practices violate the current law, as many cattle producers believe.”
The Pickett case was brought as a class-action suit on behalf of sellers of fed cattle to challenge marketing arrangements used by the nation’s largest meatpacker, Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. The cattlemen plaintiffs argued that Tyson forced cattle prices lower with captive-supply contracts, which lessened Tyson’s need to bid fair market value for cattle in the open market, thus giving the packer greater control over the supply and price of cattle.
In 2004, a unanimous jury found these captive-supply contracting methods violated the PSA’s provisions on unfair practices and price manipulation. But the jury verdict was set aside by the trial-court judge, who found that Tyson’s own business justifications defeated the PSA claim. The 11th Circuit affirmed the trial-court judge, and the plaintiffs have now filed a petition for certiorari seeking Supreme Court review.
“The PSA has been an important law for the cattle industry for over 80 years,” said Leo McDonnell, cofounder and past president of R-CALF USA. “We believe the plaintiffs in the Pickett case presented a strong claim and we are hopeful that the Supreme Court will accept this case.
“Supreme Court clarification of the ongoing viability of the PSA can help ensure we have a strong and healthy cattle industry in the United States,” McDonnell said. “Just last month, USDA’s own Inspector General reported the agency is failing to fulfill its duty to enforce the PSA.
"Cattle producers may face increasing difficulty in enforcing their own rights under the Act, unless the Pickett decision is accepted for review, and the bounds of the law are made clear for all,” he said.