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(Reuters) — Smithfield Foods Inc. has agreed to pay $75 million to settle a lawsuit by consumers who accused the meat producer and several competitors of conspiring to inflate prices in the $20 billion-a-year U.S. pork market by limiting supply.
A preliminary settlement in the antitrust case was filed Tuesday night with the federal court in Minneapolis and requires approval by U.S. District Judge John Tunheim.
The accord follows the judge's Sept. 14 approval of a similar $20 million settlement between consumers and JBS, one of Smithfield's largest rivals.
A Smithfield spokesman said the company denied liability in agreeing to settle, and that the accord reduces the distraction, risk and cost of protracted litigation.
He also said the accord eliminates a “substantial portion” of Smithfield's remaining liability in the nationwide case.
The company is based in Smithfield, Virginia, and is a unit of Hong Kong-listed WH Group.
Several companies have faced lawsuits in Minneapolis and Chicago accusing them of inflating beef and chicken prices.
Smithfield previously reached settlements of $83 million with so-called “direct” purchasers such as Maplevale Farms and $42 million with commercial purchasers, a group that includes restaurants.
Some of the other defendants are Hormel Foods Corp., Tyson Foods Inc. and data provider Agri Stats Inc.
The Biden administration has announced plans to bolster competition in the meat sector, amid concern that some meat packers could dictate prices and add to inflationary pressures.