- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

MILWAUKEE | A Brazilian conglomerate could leap ahead of America’s Tyson Foods Inc. to become the world’s largest meat company with two deals announced Wednesday that would expand its interests in beef, dairy and chicken.

One of the deals would take struggling Texas chicken producer Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. out of bankruptcy court protection, while the other merges Brazilian beef producer JBS SA said with Bertin SA, one of Latin America’s largest producers and exporters of milk products, beef and leather.

JBS cemented its status as an international meat conglomerate with its 2007 purchase of Greeley, Colo.-based Swift & Co. for $225 million. It said the creation of JBS-Bertin would make it the world’s largest meat producer.

With annual revenue forecast at $28.7 billion, JBS-Bertin will edge out Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods Inc., which brought in just under $27 billion in its fiscal 2008.

JBS-Bertin will have operations in North and South America, Africa, Europe, Russia, China and Australia.

“We have already passed Tyson and we’re just starting. We made it all the way here, and we are in a capacity to continue investing,” JBS Chief Executive Officer Joesley Batista told reporters at a news conference in Sao Paolo, according to Brazilian news organization Agencia do Estado.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the deals may change the rankings in the meat business but “won’t determine which company is the best.

“We remain focused on our own business strategies, which we believe will enable us to continue to provide the best protein products and service, both in the U.S. and around the world,” Mr. Mickelson wrote about Tyson in an e-mail.

The JBS purchase gives a lifeline to Pittsburg, Texas-based Pilgrim’s Pride, which was the largest U.S. chicken producer, with about 23 percent of the market, when it filed for bankruptcy protection late last year. It had been hobbled by debt from its buyout of a competitor and by high feed costs that left much of the industry in a slump.

JBS will buy 64 percent of the stock in the reorganized Pilgrim’s Pride for $800 million, which implies a total company value of $1.25 billion. The deal includes paying off Pilgrim’s Pride’s creditors in full and distributing new stock to current shareholders — something unusual for a company in bankruptcy protection.

Existing shareholders will receive shares in the remaining 36 percent of Pilgrim’s Pride worth $450 million. Including the plan to pay off $1.5 billion in debt, the entire transaction is worth $2.8 billion, Pilgrim’s Pride said.

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