On August 5, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) will hold joint public workshops to explore competition issues affecting the agriculture industry and the appropriate role for antitrust enforcement in agriculture. These are the first joint DOJ/USDA workshops ever to be held to discuss competition and regulatory issues in the agriculture industry.
The joint DOJ/USDA workshops will address the dynamics of competition in agriculture markets including, among other issues, buyer power and vertical integration. They will provide an opportunity for farmers, ranchers, consumer groups, processors, the agribusinesses, and other interested parties to provide examples of potentially anticompetitive conduct. The workshops will also provide an opportunity for discussion regarding concerns about the application of the antitrust laws to the agricultural industry. The DOJ’s release stated that the goal of the workshops is to promote dialogue between farmers, lawyers, economists, consumer groups, agribusinesses, agricultural producers, and other interested parties.
The first workshop will be held in early 2010. While some of the workshops may be held in Washington, D.C., others will be held regionally. The DOJ and USDA are currently soliciting public comments from interested parties regarding the impact of agriculture concentration 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 market practices such as price spreads, forward contracts, packer ownership of livestock before slaughter, market transparency, and increasing retailer concentration.
Interested parties should submit written comments in both paper and electronic form to the Department of Justice no later than Dec. 31, 2009.