Chicken for sale at a grocery store. A string of lawsuits from wholesalers, retailers and food distribution giants allege that America’s biggest poultry processors colluded to raise the price of broiler chickens over a decade.
Burke/Triolo Productions/Getty Images
Burke/Triolo Productions/Getty Images
Some major food companies are accusing Big Chicken of colluding to fix the price of broiler chickens over a 10-year period.
In just three weeks, two grocery retailers and the country’s two biggest food distribution companies have filed lawsuits against Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms, Pilgrim’s Pride, Koch Farms, Sanderson Farms and others.
The complaints all allege that since 2008, the poultry companies have engaged in a price-fixing conspiracy, assisted by information-sharing software. Consequently, suppliers and retailers argue that they paid too much for chicken — a burden that has likely been felt by consumers, too.
The $30-billion broiler chicken market comprises virtually all chicken meat consumed in the U.S. Historically, broiler chicken was priced on a boom-and-bust cycle—when prices for chicken went up, so did supply; then, prices would fall. Craig Watts, a former Perdue farmer, said in an interview that “prior to 2008, the chart [of broiler prices] was like an EKG.” But then, as Watts puts it, “it’s been boom for the past 10 years or so.”
Plaintiffs in these lawsuits allege that starting in 2008, prices for chicken suddenly stabilized and began to rise, even as the inputs those companies sold to farmers fell. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture compiled by the National Chicken Council shows that from 2008 to 2014, wholesale prices for chicken rose about 35 cents per pound before falling slightly, compared with a hike of just 24 cents between 2002 and 2008.
Both the farmers that raise chickens for poultry processors and the wholesalers who buy the birds allege that this stabilization was a result of collusion among the companies — in part made possible by a piece of database software called Agri Stats that allowed companies to see each others’ data and coordinate pricing.
Several poultry companies have denied the allegations or declined to comment.
Through Agri Stats, poultry companies can share information about production numbers, bird sizes, financial returns and more. The database company gathers information from 95 percent of poultry processors and tracks 22 million birds a day. Companies can then use this information, according to farmers, retailers and distributors, to set a higher price for all their products. In a 2017 report on Agri Stats, Bloomberg found that between 2009 and 2016, Tyson’s profit margins grew from 1.6 percent to 11.9 percent. At Pilgrim’s Pride, between 2012 and 2015 profit margins grew from 3.8 percent to 12.77 percent.
The first lawsuit to be brought against the processors was a class action brought by a food wholesaler, Maplevale Farms, in September 2016. That lawsuit alleged that from 2008 onward, Tyson and Pilgrim’s coordinated their efforts to reduce their broiler stock and forced a “nearly 50% increase in Broiler wholesale prices since 2008, despite input costs (primarily corn and soybeans) falling roughly 20% to 23% over the same time period.” Maplevale claimed that consequently, it paid inflated prices for chicken over the course of several years.
Meanwhile, these poultry processors are also under attack from a different direction. The farmers who raise the chickens for the processors are alleging that, in a similar way, these companies are using their market power to short-change them, too.
Several farmers filed a class-action lawsuit against Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue, Koch, Sanderson and others in February 2017, alleging that the processors acted as a cartel and used information from Agri Stats to keep farmers’ wages down. In April 2017, Chicken Kitchen, a restaurant franchiser, brought a similar lawsuit against Tyson Foods, alleging that the company “conspired to fix, maintain and stabilize the price of Broilers by limiting production with the intent of increasing Broiler prices in the United States.” On Jan. 12, the Southern supermarket chains Winn-Dixie and Bi-Lo filed suit against Koch Foods, Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, and others alleging that the processors restricted supply in order to keep prices high. US Foods and Sysco followed with separate lawsuits on Jan. 30.
The allegations of anti-competitive behavior against Big Chicken come amid extreme consolidation in the industry. Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride alone control 40 percent of the market. Sanderson Farms, Perdue and Koch Foods control another 20 percent.
Farmers have fought for years to reform contract poultry farming. Over 95 percent of chicken production in the U.S. is done under contract. Contract poultry farmers are paid in an opaque “tournament system,” which pits farmer against farmer in a zero-sum pay structure. Many farmers allege that poultry companies use the tournament system to suppress farmers’ wages and restrict farmers’ abilities to move among processors.
Farmers succeeded in getting the Obama administration’s Department of Agriculture to take on rule-making that would have addressed some of their concerns. But the resulting efforts — known as the “GIPSA rules” for the arm of the USDA that oversees competition issues in the livestock sector — were killed by the Trump administration last October.
Because these lawsuits are private litigation, they will likely not result in structural reform to the poultry sector, says Peter Carstensen, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who researches competition and regulation in the meat sector. He says the lawsuits probably won’t have “much effect” on the “very serious problem” of how processors “exploit the farmers who raise their chickens.”
But “the first step in reform in terms of their collective seller power is to significantly change the kind of information that Agri Stats can provide to chicken processors,” he says. And these lawsuits may set off a sea change in how seriously the public — and regulators — take allegations of ongoing collusion in the poultry processing sector.
This story comes to us from the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit investigative news organization, where Leah Douglas is an associate editor and staff writer. A version of the story first appeared in FERN’s Ag Insider.
Parent company Tronc Inc. is preparing to sell the Los Angeles Times. A source familiar with negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity confirms to NPR that a sale is in the works.
The Washington Post reports that the buyer is Patrick Soon-Shiong, a major shareholder of Tronc, described in a Times story as a biotech billionaire. He will also buy sister paper the San Diego Union-Tribune, according to the Post.
Among the issues roiling the LAT is the turnover of executives in the wake of reporting by NPR’s David Folkenflik on allegations of sexual harassment. Times journalists also voted recently to unionize.
This story will be updated.
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda announced Tuesday that he would sign a controversial Holocaust bill which has sparked tensions with Israel, the U.S. and Ukraine.
Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images
Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images
Polish president President Andrzej Duda signed a bill on Tuesday that authorizes jail time for people convicted of suggesting the country was complicit in the Holocaust.
Poland is the location of several former concentration campus, including Auschwitz-Birkenau, where 1 million people — almost all of them Jews — were systematically killed in World War II. The over 3 million Jews who lived in Poland and were murdered by the Nazis account for about half of all Jews killed in the Holocaust.
The bill imposes criminal proceedings for allegedly defaming Poland by assigning complicity to the country for Holocaust crimes committed on Polish soil. Referring to the killing sites Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland with phrases such as “Polish death camps” is punishable by three years in prison. The bill will go to a constitutional court for review before it takes effect as law.
In a televised address, Duda said the legislation would preserve Poland’s international reputation and said that artistic and historical research work will not be affected by the law. The bill has been internationally criticized since its public conception last month.
“One cannot change history, and the Holocaust cannot be denied,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement last week.
“The United States reaffirms that terms like “Polish death camps” are painful and misleading,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hours after Duda’s decision on Tuesday. But he said restricting fundamental freedoms isn’t the answer. “Enactment of this law adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry. … We believe that open debate, scholarship, and education are the best means of countering misleading speech.”
The State Department made those points in a statement issued last week, and spokesperson Heather Nauert added that the legislation could have consequences for “Poland’s strategic interests and relationships.”
“[We] do not deny that there were cases of huge wickedness” in which Poles denounced Jews,” Duda said in his Tuesday speech. But the president also said that “there was no systemic way in which Poles took part in” Nazi crimes.
“No Polish law will change history, Poland was complicit in the Holocaust,” tweeted Israeli politician Yair Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor. “Hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered on its soil without them having met any German officer.”
In honor of 1A‘sone year anniversary, NPR Extra interviews Joshua Johnson about his experience hosting the show, navigating complex conversations, and goals for 1A in 2018.
You started your public radio career by helping launch a unique regional news partnership between Miami’s NPR station WLRN, and The Miami Herald. Then you were a morning news hosts for KQED in San Francisco. Did you always want to host your own program? What drew you to public radio?
I absolutely always wanted to host my own show. Since I was a small child, I used to play pretend that I was a game, talk or late-night show host, news anchor or sportscaster. Eventually, I started coming up with ideas for programs and realized that I’d be happiest working on something original. 1A is a manifestation of something I’ve dreamed about my whole life, but at the same time never would’ve envisioned quite this way.
As for public radio, I got into it because local TV news was making me crazy. I always liked NPR, but network television was my first love. Public radio was a perfect escape hatch for me – challenging in all the ways journalism should be, with an audience that really appreciates great work.
1A is a show about a “changing America.” The program and its conversations are touted as celebrating free speech and the power of the spoken word. A year in, can you elaborate on how 1A has remained committed to this mission? Any particular conversations or guests that come to mind?
The first thing we try to do with every program is listen more than we talk. It’s a waste of time to create a space for free speech if I do all the talking. So we put out prompts and call-outs, we check our voicemail inbox regularly, we even build shows around audience-suggested topics, all to make sure that we default to listening. So much of our civic life would improve dramatically if more of us defaulted to listening. If there’s a not-so-secret secret to our success, that’s a big part of it.
Beyond that, we try to be very adventurous and enterprising in the topics we take on. We can be whatever we want; we can talk about whatever the nation is talking about, as long as we do it in a compelling and smart way.
And honestly, it’s those moments of serendipity that make the show really sing for me, not the big names that we book. It’s the Jehovah’s Witness who called in to our show looking back one year after the election, and admitted live on the air that she broke the tenets of her faith to vote in 2016. It’s the listeners who wrote in after we interviewed rap star Gucci Mane to tell us how amazing it was that NPR was willing to go there… and how validated they felt at hearing something important to them on our air. So much of what we’ve done has felt worth it because of how our efforts were reflected back to us in the responses of our audience. That’s how we know we’re onto something.
The show has sought to uncover what connects us across the fissures that divide the country. What’s the key to navigating complex conversations?
A lot of journalists talk about being impartial or objective. While I don’t quarrel with that, lately I’ve come to think of my approach as more clinical. Reason being, I used to be in a summer program at Temple University’s medical school, for minority youth interested in research careers. While I was there, I encountered a number of doctors fighting all kinds of dread diseases like AIDS and various cancers, some of whom had lost loved ones to these illnesses. But they didn’t go into the lab every day like avenging angels!
They just went in and focused.
My journalism is usually the same way, especially with tough issues. I’m not objective about racism, but I can be clinical in interviewing a racist, as a way of thoroughly understanding his views. I’m not objective about sexism, but I can clinically discuss why a particular man is struggling to change the way he engages with women. A clinician has to accept the malady for what it is, study it thoroughly, and, most importantly, not let anything she brings with her contaminate the sample. I wash my hands of my biases and preconceptions, as best I can, before I enter the studio each day, knowing they’ll be waiting for me when I leave, but keeping them away from the mic lest they contaminate my “sample.” This doesn’t mean being cold or heartless; it just means accepting my guests just as they are and focusing on learning, not convincing.
We can’t improve this nation until we fully understand it, and sometimes being a clinical conversationalist helps a great deal.
Birthdays and anniversaries often allow us to reflect on what’s ahead. What are you most looking forward to in 2018 both for yourself and for the show?
More sleep! (Not at all kidding.)
And more travel across the country. The response we’ve gotten so far at station visits has been amazing, and I’m grateful that people are packing our events and receptions.
But really, I have no idea what to expect. I just try to be ready for what comes and greet it with courage, professionalism, patience and hope. My challenge is to keep improving myself so I can hopefully be prepared for the next big adventure.
What’s inspiring you at the moment? What gets you up in the mornings?
The prospect of building a truly national conversation. I mean, like, Oprah-sized. THAT’S what I think 1A ought to be. We should be the place the entire nation turns to first for the definitive, comprehensive, major interviews with the heavy hitters of our time, no matter who they are.
There’s a sticky note on my computer monitor that simply says, “GROW THE SHOW.” That’s what drives me. Everyone should be listening to NPR, at least a little. Everyone should listen to 1A, especially for the big issues and big interviews. And every NPR program — ALL OF THEM — should be working like hell to grow their audiences. Lots of people out there are discontented with their current media diet: let’s find them and give them a taste of something better. Convince them to sample, then get them to bring a friend. Let’s get all of ’em. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be number one, so let’s go be number one.
We’ve never had this many options for news and entertainment. Tell us about your current media diet. What are you reading or watching?
I hate to disappoint, but my media diet is pretty standard: Times, Post, Journal, NPR, cable news, etc. I use Twitter a lot and try to follow sources from many backgrounds. And I use Facebook (sadly) to see what conspiracies and rumors my otherwise intelligent friends are hyperventilating about. (Sigh.) But my diet isn’t fancy. I try to be adventurous in what interests me without getting esoteric, because I want my perspective to reflect what Americans are broadly attuned to. That way I have a sense of what the current national conversation is, and that helps me think of ways for us to improve on it.
As for entertainment, I don’t watch much series TV these days, I’m ashamed to say! The last series I finished was “The Crown” on Netflix, which my partner turned me on to. Usually for entertainment I go lift heavy stuff at the gym, or I get lost in my PlayStation. Thankfully 1A has a Movie Club, so I usually see at least one new release each month.
How did you find your voice for radio?
I started talking.
Seriously! I’ve always been imitating people on TV and radio, so it just kind of came naturally. I have no idea why I started — I just did.
Who were your inspirations in journalism and broadcasting?
Bernard Shaw, Ed Bradley, Peter Jennings, a number of local anchors in South Florida (especially black men like WPLG’s Dwight Lauderdale, WPTV’s Ted White, WTVJ’s Ed O’Dell and others), Arsenio Hall (I wanted his job soooooo bad!), Oprah (naturally), Bill Cosby (I know, I KNOW — times have changed, but he did teach me a lot about storytelling and working an audience), Robert Siegel (the first NPR voice I remember that captivated me).
On today’s show: Michael Batnick of Ritholtz Wealth Management explains why the last few days in the stock market were normal market behavior. Also: Why the stock market drop is good for lots of people, and largely irrelevant for even more.
Chris Junior Anaekwe, wearing a checkered kerchief, gathered a group of local teens to help clean the trash out of a gutter near a busy market in Anambra state in southeastern Nigeria.
Chris Junior Anaekwe had an idea. In his home state of Anambra in southeastern Nigeria, there was a filthy gutter full of bottles and cans and trash, all covered in black gunk.
And he thought it would be a good idea to convince the local kids — local teenagers who contributed to themess — to clean it up.
Good luck with that!
But with a bit of convincing and leading by example, Anaekwe, 28, was able to gather a group of nearly a dozen boys, ages 14 to 16, to help out. On the last Saturday of January, they used shovels to dig out the trash from the ditch.
The story went viral. After Anaekwe’s former colleague Chimezie Anajama re-posted photos from his cleanup event on her Twitter account, the tweet has since been shared hundreds of times. Anajama, who works at a nonprofitcalled Policy Works in Uyo, Nigeria, told NPR that the feeling of pride she has for Anaekwe is an “understatement.”
A young Nigerian, Chris, just did something amazing. He influenced the youth of his street and led them to #cleanup the street gutters of #Onitsha. It is rare to see this without awaiting compensation. Bro, I am proud to’ve worked with you. Do RT to inspire others. pic.twitter.com/dZMAPYxdE1
— Chimezie Anajama (@MsChimezie) January 27, 2018
We spoke to Anaekwe, a graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, about his clean-up efforts.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What inspired you to do this cleanup?
When I came back to my home state of Anambra [after living for some time in Akwa Ibom state] and saw the dirty environment around our market — one of the biggest in Nigeria — I was inspired to do something.
The market has always been dirty, but the rate at which people are throwing trash now is increasing every day. It’s a center of attraction. Most people pass through the street. And now it’s become [a path for cars and motorbikes, adding traffic and pollution to the area]. No one is doing anything about the refuse going into the gutter.
On your Facebook page, you wrote that keeping the environment clean was part of your duty as an “SDG ambassador.” What is that?
The SDGs are the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, a group of targets and aid indicators [to address issues like global poverty and inequality]. I came to learn about them in 2016, when I attended a one-year program that we have here in Nigeria called the National Youth Service Course.
Anyone who carries out the work of the SDGs in Nigeria, we call ourselves ambassadors. But it’s not like we are officially recognized by the U.N.
During my service, I worked with the Ministry of Economic Development in Akwa Ibom state, where I worked on a community development project to [achieve one of the SDGs].
You and your team, led by Anajama who originally shared the viral tweet, chose SDG 4, which is all about education. What did you do?
We did things like volunteer to provide blackboards to local schools.
Your service ended in 2017, which means the cleanup event in January was not part of that program.
I’m the kind of person who likes to help humanity. I’m not doing it because of what I’m going to gain. I’m doing it because this is what I want to do in life: help people around me.
Why did you enlist neighborhood kids to help?
They are the ones throwing trash in the gutter. They live around the area. If outsiders see the locals throw trash in the gutter, then they’re going to do it, too. I wanted the kids to be the ones to clean up. I believe it will go a long way to teach them a lesson, that they are the protectors of their own environment.
Did you get any pushback from the kids?
It was not easy. It took me two weeks to convince the youths that we really need to do this. A good, clean environment is next to godliness, and a prerequisite for a good life.
At first, many people rejected the idea. They were like no, I can’t do this. Hire someone to do it. But I told them: If you want to lead, you need to be the first to do it. So I led by example. As I started to clean up, they saw I was serious and they joined me.
How long did it take you guys?
About four to five hours.
Young volunteers shoveled trash out of a gutter. Sanitation workers later collected the garbage.
Chris Junior Anaekwe
Chris Junior Anaekwe
From the photos it looks like the trash is removed from the gutter but still piled up on the sides.
After the cleanup we needed to dispose of the trash so it wouldn’t get back into gutter. People needed to contribute money. Luckily, some people volunteered to pay the people who [collect] the trash, and they got rid of it later that day.
Did you know you’re a viral sensation? Hundreds of people have seen your story on Twitter, calling you an inspiration.
I’m very happy and grateful at least that someone has appreciated what I did. Some people I don’t even know. It’s going to push me to do this more.
Some on Twitter say they are disappointed in the authorities for not keeping the area clean.
We need to help ourselves. We must not wait for the government.
Had you heard from the authorities about your efforts?
There was no government presence after the cleanup, no one told us great job.
Has anything changed after the cleanup?
There’s kind of like this new rule that applies to everybody living within that area. Throw your trash in the dustbin yourself. When you do that it reduces the rate of the gutter being filled up.
Are you going to organize another cleanup?
When I posted the photos to my Facebook I got so many messages from people inviting me to come to their street and help clean up. I promised them I will come if I have the time.
CDs by Eric Clapton and Michael Buble on display at Best Buy in Mountain View, Calif., 2011.
Best Buy has told music suppliers that it will pull all CDs from its stores this summer, according to a report from Billboard. This move should come as no big surprise: Between unlimited streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify, and the ongoing vinyl revival, CDs just don’t have the sway that they used to.
In 2011, 331 million CDs, CSs, LPs and digital albums were sold in the U.S. That figure nearly halved by 2017, when sales were at 167 million according to data from Statista. As NPR’s Andrew Flanagan has reported:
“After hitting record highs in the CD era, the global market for recorded music began shrinking dramatically in 2000. It lost 40 percent of its total value over the following 14 years, which spanned the birth of Napster and the file-sharing era, the decline of the CD and the rise and fall of the MP3. … Then came streaming — which the record industry warily, then wholeheartedly, embraced.”
In 2015, music streaming resulted in the first increase in the music industry’s global revenues since 1999, by $500 million. 2016 marked the year that streaming services were the primary way Americans listened to music, according to data from Neilson. And in 2017, as NPR’s Sonari Glinton reported, the Ford Motor Co. rolled out its first car in 25 years without a CD player.
“Streaming is the fastest growing source of music and video content and particularly with younger consumers, who we’ve found time and time again prefer streaming and subscription services over traditional forms like CDs,” Ford marketing manager Michael O’Brien told Glinton.
O’Brien isn’t wrong. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry estimates that 112 million people worldwide now pay for access to streaming services, and that streaming services contributed toward a 20.5 percent decline in downloads and a 7.6 percent decline in physical revenue in 2017.
Best Buy generates nearly $40 billion annually, and has more than 1,500 stores throughout North America. Last year, the company eliminated nearly 400 jobs to “meet the significant and evolving tech support needs of our customers,” as it said in a letter to the state of Minnesota, according to Fortune. The company told NPR that they have no comment on the Billboard report.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy McGuire pitches herself to caucus-goers in the Roosevelt High School Auditorium in Des Moines during the Iowa Caucuses on Feb. 5, 2018.
Clay Masters/Iowa Public Radio
Clay Masters/Iowa Public Radio
Snow blanketed Iowa Monday, contributing to a 70-car pileup on Interstate 35 near Ames, but traffic and snowfall totals of up to seven inches didn’t stop lots of political junkies from showing up to their midterm caucuses.
“This is what snowflakes look like when they come out on the day of a big snow storm!” caucus site leader Ruth Thompson shouted to a packed auditorium at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines.
Every four years, Iowa leads the nation in the presidential nominating process and often winnows the field of candidates. Compared to those presidential years, midterm meetings like Monday’s are lesser-followed but they can point to momentum.
Last night Republicans and Democrats discussed resolutions to their party’s platforms and selected delegates for state conventions. They also addressed some issues.
Drake University political scientist Rachel Paine Caufield flags labor rights as something on Democrats’ minds. Republicans took control of both chambers of the Iowa legislature in 2016 and stripped many bargaining rights from public sector unions.
She also suspected moves by lawmakers in the capitol would echo in the meeting rooms across the state as the partisans considered resolutions for their political platforms.
“Right now we’re having legislative debates over transgender rights,” Paine Caufield said ahead of Monday night’s caucuses. “I think we’ll probably see some of that come up.”
Exact attendance numbers are not yet available but Democrats are happy. They say their turnout exceeded 9,000, which they say “far eclipses” the 5,000 attendees in 2010 and 6,500 in 2014.
A spokesman for the Iowa Republican Party says they won’t release any numbers until later this month. He did stress that these caucuses are strictly party business and not candidate-centric.
In addition to picking delegates (in Iowa, a primary can go to a state convention if no candidate gets 35 percent of the vote) and hearing from candidates themselves (Gov. Kim Reynolds faces a Republican primary challenger and seven Democrats are running for their party’s nod), Iowans offered their own ideas.
“We had a lively a ‘drain the swamp’ platform,” says attendee Jess Mazour. She says the conversation in her caucus centered around the idea that once out of office, politicians should not be able to lobby Congress.
But even at this year’s midterm gatherings, the 2020 presidential race wasn’t far from mind. Iowans who watched the Super Bowl got a peek at the first official presidential challenger. Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., who’s been campaigning in Iowa for months, spent $20,000 for an ad during Sunday’s game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots.
Kendrick Lamar and SZA are poised to take over the world any day now. Their new video for “All The Stars,” from the Lamar-produced soundtrack album for Marvel’s Black Panther, casts the two artists as young royalty — both on earth and in the far reaches of the galaxy.
Directed by Dave Meyers and The Little Homies (the team of Dave Free and Lamar himself), “All The Stars” features an all-black cast in a biblical-looking landscape, full of bright colors and literal black panthers — all in line with the Afrofuturist aesthetics of the film’s fictional setting of Wakanda. SZA’s verses and the airy hook, “All the stars are closer,” soar over Lamar’s evocations of a better life within reach.
“I’ve been a massive Kendrick fan ever since I first heard him, since his mixtapes,” Black Panther director Ryan Coogler recently told NPR’s David Greene. The video comes just a week after Lamar tweeted out the album’s stacked track list, featuring Future, Anderson .Paak, 2 Chainz, Vince Staples and many of Lamar and SZA’s TDE labelmates.
Black Panther: The Album drops Feb. 9 via Interscope Records. Marvel’s Black Panther hits theaters nationwide Feb. 16.