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Smithfield Foods to pay $83 mln to settle pork price-fixing claims

June 30 (Reuters) - Smithfield Foods Inc said on Wednesday it will pay $83 million to settle litigation that accused several companies of conspiring to limit supply in the $20 billion-a-year U.S. pork market to inflate prices and their own profits.

The settlement with Smithfield resolves antitrust claims by “direct” purchasers such as Maplevale Farms that accused the nation’s largest pork companies of having fixed prices beginning in 2009.

Smithfield’s settlement requires approval by Chief Judge John Tunheim of the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

Keira Lombardo, Smithfield’s chief administrative officer, said the settlement eliminates a “substantial portion” of the Smithfield, Virginia-based company’s exposure in the litigation.

She also said Smithfield denied liability in agreeing to settle, and believed its conduct was always lawful.

Smithfield’s parent WH Group Ltd says it is the world’s largest pork producer.

Clifford Pearson, a lawyer for the direct purchasers, declined to comment.

Hormel Foods Corp, the JBS USA unit of Brazil’s JBS SA, Tyson Foods Inc and data provider Agri Stats Inc are among the other defendants in the litigation.

Smithfield and those companies are also defendants in related price-fixing litigation in Minneapolis by commercial and other “indirect” pork purchasers, such as restaurants and delis.

The litigation is similar to litigation in federal court in Chicago where purchasers accused companies such as Tyson, Perdue Farms Inc and JBS’ majority-owned Pilgrim’s Pride Corp of conspiring to fix broiler chicken prices.

The case is In re Pork Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, No. 18-01776. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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