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JBS, National Beef call off buyout deal

Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — A beef industry buyout that regulators were trying to block on antitrust grounds has been called off.

National Beef Packing Co., the fourth-largest U.S. beef processor, said Friday that its sale to Brazilian beef producer JBS S.A. has been dropped.

JBS, the world’s largest beef packer and the third-largest in the United States, said last March that it would acquire Kansas City, Mo.-based National Beef in a $560 million stock-and-cash transaction.

In October, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit blocking the deal, saying it could push up costs for consumers and drive down prices paid to ranchers and feedlots.

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Attorneys general for 17 states joined the suit, many of them from the central part of the U.S. and the west with meatpacking ties.

JBS told its shareholders in a news release it abandoned the deal because the sides could not reach an agreement.

Steve Hunt, chief executive of National Beef’s majority owner, U.S. Premium Beef LLC, said the company pursued the sale because it would have helped them grow their business.

"We’re all disappointed that it came to this," he told The Associated Press.

The deal was officially terminated Monday, the day National Beef is due to collect a termination fee of up to $25 million in cash from JBS, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Department of Justice said in a statement Friday that calling off the deal means competition and competitive pricing will continue in the industry, which will benefit producers, ranchers, meatpackers and ultimately consumers.

Online court records show a hearing set next month in the case in U.S. District Court in the Northern Illinois.

The lawsuit alleged that grocers, food service companies and ultimately, consumers would likely pay more for beef if the buyout went through because it would have put more than 80 percent of domestic-fed cattle-packing capacity in the hands of three companies — JBS, Tyson Foods Inc. and Cargill Inc.

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A cattle producers group called R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America opposed the consolidation because it would have hurt hundreds of thousands of independent cattle producers by lowering prices.

"JBS and National Beef are among the most powerful and influential food manufacturing corporations in the world and their attempt to lock up our cattle market has now been defeated by U.S. family farmers and ranchers," Bill Bullard, chief executive of R-CALF, said in a statement.

Regulators estimated if JBS were allowed to buy National, it would have annual sales of more than $14 billion and the ability to slaughter more than one-third of U.S.-fed cattle-packing capacity, at about 40,000 head of cattle a day.

The combination also would have lowered the wholesale prices cattle producers, ranchers and feedlots could charge, the suit said.

JBS became the third-largest beef processor in the United States in 2007 after purchasing Greeley, Colo.-based Swift & Co. for $225 million.

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