A lawsuit got underway Monday that’s been almost a decade in the making, and could affect hundreds of Iowa cattle farmers. Jury selection began in a challenge to big packing companies that contract with farmers for livestock long before it goes to market. Steve Cady, director of the Organization for Competitive Markets, says “Pickett versus IBP” began in 1994.He names farmers from Kansas, Montana and Nebraska who joined the suit saying the packers use “captive supplies,” contracted or “formula” cattle to manipulate the prices paid to cattlemen. The issue’s packer control of livestock, which has grown in urgency over the years as the business practice becomes more pervasive.The suit contains a monetary claim that would demand damages over two-Billion dollars. But the main request is for injunctive relief, so if the plaintiffs win, the judge will tell IBP — or Tyson Foods, which bought it, to quit such price-controlling tactics. Two other suits now included in this one are Murdoch vs. Excel and Leuking vs. ConAgra, so this tackles the three biggest packers and would include them all in any “injunctive relief” — and Cady says the nation’s four biggest packers control 82-percent of the cattle market. Opening statements are expected today (Tuesday) in the trial, which is being conducted in Alabama.
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