Quebec law firm Belleau Lapointe is leading a class action case against several meat-processing companies, accused of conspiring to restrict competition when it comes to the production, supply and sale of beef in the province.

The companies being pursued are Cargill (Cargill Meat Solutions, Cargill Ltd), JBS Food Company (Swift Beef Company, JBS Packerland, JBS Canada ULC), Tyson Foods (Tyson Fresh Meats) and the National Beef Packing Company.

Sylvie De Bellefeuille, a lawyer with Option Consommateurs and main plaintiff in the court filing, claims these four companies "agreed to delay the slaughter of their animals, which means producers were forced to sell them at a loss or discount."

"It creates a shortage in the market, so it has an upward effect on the price," she said.

De Bellefeuille notes there are also other factors influencing the rise in beef prices, such as inflation.

"The pandemic may have a wide back. The alleged cartel would have taken place from 2015 onward, it's something that has run its course," she said. "We, unfortunately, don't have a number to give. We don't know exactly how much would have been artificially inflated."

Cargill responded to the court filing with a statement, saying, "The claims lack merit. We compete vigorously in the market and conduct ethical business, and we are confident in our efforts to maintain market integrity on behalf of our customers and consumers."

According to documents filed by Belleau Lapointe, the competing companies jointly control 85 per cent of the Canadian market and 80 per cent of the U.S. market.

Dalhousie University food researcher Sylvain Charlebois says while the pandemic led to all kinds of price hikes, he can’t explain what’s happening with beef.

“If you look at the first couple of months of 2022, meat prices have remained the same, except for beef. Beef prices have gone up 8 per cent since January, which is really bizarre,” he said.

The class action is seeking a judgment that would order the reimbursement of revenues due to the artificial inflation of prices in Quebec, potentially amounting to several million dollars.

Anyone who has purchased beef in Quebec since Jan. 1, 2015 is considered a member of the class action.

The authorization application was filed in the Superior Court of Quebec on March 24, 2022. 

- With files from CTV News Montreal's Rob Lurie