No progress on Tiktok regulation, push ahead on chicken slaughterhouse price fixing

Tiktok: Chicken:

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the panel’s top Republican sent a joint letter to the Federal Trade Commission this week urging an investigation of TikTok’s data-handling and other practices. TikTok’s parent, ByteDance Ltd., has its headquarters in Beijing.

“We ask that your agency immediately initiate [an] investigation on the basis of apparent deception by TikTok” concerning its data-handling and corporate- governance practices, said the lawmakers’ letter.

So far the White House has given few indications of what, if anything, it will do. It didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Mr. Biden in June 2021 revoked a series of Trump-era actions regarding TikTok, saying they were effectively unenforceable in the face of successful legal challenges.

The White House replaced the Trump actions with an executive order that promised a broad review of apps controlled by foreign adversaries to determine whether they posed a security threat to the U.S., as well as new policy measures as needed.

Mr. Biden’s order gave the Commerce Department, in coordination with other agencies, six months to come up with recommendations to address the risk. A department official said the agency “continues to work on rule making to address concerns” related to foreign apps.

Federal prosecutors failed for a third time to convict five chicken-company officials of allegedly conspiring to fix prices, dealing a blow to the Justice Department’s antitrust division and its efforts to rein in the meat industry.

The Justice Department alleged in June 2020 that executives of Pilgrim’s Pride and Claxton Poultry Farms, a smaller company, exchanged prices and other details during the bidding process on chicken-supply deals for major restaurant chains. The department brought more charges in October 2020, expanding the number of companies and chicken industry employees linked to the alleged activity.

In a case with multiple defendants, a defendant with less culpability can bring down a whole case, and that risk grows with the number of defendants, said Mr. Geverola, a partner at law firm Arnold & Porter. He added that the government’s two key witnesses had been granted full immunity, which may cause some jurors to be less likely to believe them. In a similar case in which a tuna company chief executive was convicted in a price-fixing scheme, multiple individuals pleaded guilty and testified in the trial. This case lacks that, he said.

The White House outlined tighter potential regulations for U.S. meatpackers in January, including stricter rules for livestock purchasing and meat labeling, with plans to provide funds to help regional meat processors better compete with big companies.

Pilgrim’s Pride agreed two years ago to plead guilty to resolve price-fixing charges targeting the company, and paid a fine of $108 million. Tyson Foods Inc. has cooperated with the probe, and received conditional leniency under a program that would let it sidestep penalties in exchange for informing on the alleged conspiracy.

The mistrial comes as the Biden administration has more broadly alleged the U.S. meat industry of using its scale to inflate Americans’ food bills. Meat company officials deny this and have said their prices reflect market forces that have arisen from persistent supply-chain problems and labor shortages, which have constrained meat production as the economy recovers from the pandemic. Industry groups have said they are being made a scapegoat for inflation.

Jurors in a Denver federal court on Thursday evening acquitted all five defendants, who had been accused of illicitly coordinating among themselves what their companies would charge restaurant buyers.

The first trial ended in mistrial in December and a March retrial ended in a hung jury. For the third trial, prosecutors had sought to simplify the case for jurors by slimming down the case to five defendants from 10.

The outcome is a big setback for the Justice Department, which under the Biden administration has vowed to pursue what it sees as anticompetitive conduct in the agricultural sector, and illegal mergers. Department officials have said they wouldn’t shy away from bringing cases they might lose.

The Justice Department separately opened a civil investigation into human-resources practices at chicken companies earlier this year.