February 25, 2010
The U.S. Department of Justice and USDA have announced the agenda for the first in a series of 5 workshops intended to give these agencies and the public in-depth information about the increasing concentration and decreasing competition in the agricultural sector. The workshop will be held March 12 in Ankeny, Iowa. Attendance at all the workshops is free and open to the public. The agenda and other information on this workshop are posted on the Department of Justice website, along with information on the next four workshops.
Farmers are caught in the middle of concentration in the agriculture sector. Increasingly fewer corporations control both the purchase and processing of livestock, poultry and other agricultural products and the supply to farmers of agricultural inputs. At the morning session of the Iowa workshop, farmers will have the opportunity to tell USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney about the decreasing ability for farmers to contract on fair terms with processors, to buy seed and other inputs at a reasonable price, and to get access to markets and a reasonable price for their products. Iowa Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley are tentatively scheduled to participate in the morning session, along with Iowa state officials. Both Senators support stronger protections for farmers and ranchers in federal laws that regulate livestock and poultry markets. The farmers participating in this morning roundtable session will be named in a future announcement.
The afternoon panel on competition in the seed industry will include a representative from the Monsanto Company, which is rapidly buying up much of the world’s seed resources, and a representative from the American Antitrust Institute, which recently released a detailed report on Monsanto’s dominance. Another afternoon panel on agricultural trends includes Professor Mary Hendrickson from the University of Missouri, who has conducted long-term research on consolidation of firms in livestock and poultry sectors and in the retail food sector.
The Obama Administration announced last August that it was concerned about the impacts of the concentration of power in the agricultural sector on food costs, the effect of agricultural regulatory statutes or other applicable laws and programs on competition, issues relating to patent and intellectual property affecting agricultural marketing or production, and the impact on farmers of market practices such as price spreads, forward contracts, packer ownership of livestock before slaughter, market transparency, and increasing retailer concentration.
NSAC supported comprehensive reform in the 2008 Farm Bill of the Packers and Stockyards Act and the Agricultural Fair Practices Act, the laws that govern market relations in the agricultural sector. A new Livestock Title in the Farm Bill included a few important reforms, which are described in our NSAC Grassroots Guide to the 2008 Farm Bill, but other reforms, which will be examined in depth at the upcoming workshops, were left on the table.
The 2008 Farm Bill also directed USDA to issue an important proposed rulemaking on unfair market preferences and on agricultural contract reforms. The proposed rule will be issued for public comment by USDA in the near future, probably fairly soon after the March 12 hearing in Iowa. NSAC will be alerting readers to the publication of that rule and will provide analysis and possible talking points for public comment.
Categories: Competition & Anti-trust