April 19, 2023

Warren, Raskin Call on USDA to Hold Meatpacking Giant JBS Accountable and Eliminate Company’s Government Contracts in Response to Its History of Criminal Misconduct

Lawmakers Call on USDA to Initiate Suspension and Debarment Proceedings Against JBS to Maintain Public Trust, Protect Producers and Consumers 

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, urging the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to initiate suspension and debarment proceedings against meatpacking company JBS USA (JBS), the U.S. subsidiary of J&F Investimentos S.A. (J&F), a Brazilian-owned investment company with a history of criminal misconduct, and each of its U.S. companies, including Pilgrim’s Pride. 

“J&F and its subsidiaries have been subjected to at least $3.4 billion in fines and penalties in both the U.S. and Brazil in the past 6 years alone. Yet despite the scale of this figure and J&F’s pattern of brazen misconduct, USDA has continued awarding JBS and Pilgrim’s Pride government contracts—for nutrition assistance programs, school meal programs, and food bank donations—worth over $115 million collectively since their guilty pleas,” wrote the lawmakers. 

In the letter, the lawmakers detail criminal behavior of J&F and its subsidiaries. J&F’s owners pled guilty in 2017 to a bribery charge in Brazil and received a fine of $3 billion. They also pled guilty in 2020 to criminal misconduct in the U.S., including using bank accounts to facilitate bribes. J&F pleaded guilty in federal court to a criminal charge of conspiring to violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and agreed to pay a penalty of over $255 million. That same year Pilgrim’s Pride also agreed to pay approximately $110.5 million to settle federal price-fixing charges.

“We have broad concerns about the failure of DOJ, USDA, and other federal agencies to use their authority to suspend and debar individuals and entities that engage in criminal conduct or pose a risk to the public interest. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) permits an agency to debar an entity if it is convicted of or receives a civil judgment for ‘any…offense indicating a lack of business integrity or business honesty.’ Additionally, the FAR includes a catchall provision permitting an agency to debar a contractor for any cause “of so serious or compelling a nature that it affects the present responsibility of the contractor or subcontractor,” continued the lawmakers. 

Given this history of criminal behavior, the lawmakers are calling on USDA to initiate suspension and debarment proceedings to serve the public interest and signal to American farmers that the integrity of procurement channels is of the utmost importance to USDA. The lawmakers also ask USDA to respond to a set of questions about taking suspension and debarment action against J&F and its subsidiaries by May 16, 2023. 

Senator Warren has led oversight work in the food sector to bring down prices for consumers and hold corporations accountable for profiteering and other potential wrongdoing: 

  • In February 2023, Senator Warren delivered a speech on the fight to protect the economy and democracy from corporate monopolies, and called on Secretary Vilsack to take action on JBS. “After meat processing giant JBS admitted to price fixing, and after its parent company was convicted of bribery, the law gives USDA the power to refuse to give JBS any more federal contracts. Instead, since JBS’s guilty pleas in 2020, USDA has awarded them at least $115 million in new contracts.Why not stop giving taxpayer money to these crooks? Well, as the Secretary argued, there really aren’t any competitors, so he has no choice but to keep working with a corporate criminal. Here’s an idea—break up the big meatpackers so there’s real competition,” Senator Warren said.
  • In February 2023, Senator Warren and Representative Katie Porter (D.-Calif.) sent letters to top egg-producing companies, calling on them to provide answers about the elevated price of eggs and the extent to which egg producers may be using fears about avian flu and supply shocks as a cover to pad their own profits. 
  • In October 2022, Senator Warren and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan urging the agency to oppose Kroger’s proposed $24.6 billion acquisition of Albertsons. In the letter, the lawmakers highlight how Kroger and Albertsons have price gouged consumers during the pandemic, and how this merger could increase monopoly power, buyer power, and hurt both companies’ workers and consumers. 
  • In May 2022, Senators Warren and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) introduced a bipartisan joint resolution that would direct the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report to Congress within one year on the extent of anti-competitive practices and violations of antitrust law in the beef-packing industry, including price-fixing, anti-competitive acquisitions, dominance of supply chains, and monopolization. 
  • In February 2022, Senator Warren and then-Representative Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) slammed the proposed merger between Sanderson Farms, the third largest poultry processor, and Wayne Farms, the sixth largest poultry processor, and called on the Department of Justice to thoroughly review the deal and step in to prevent harm to American farmers and consumers.
  • In June 2020, Senators Warren and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) opened an investigation of Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill and Smithfield Foods after reports that the meatpacking companies, while threatening the American public with impending meat shortages and jacking up prices, exported a record amount of product to China.