Final USDA-Justice Dept. competition workshop focused on supply chain margins
By Agri-Pulse Staff
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Washington, Dec. 8 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice held their fifth and final joint public workshop Wednesday to explore the appropriate role for antitrust and regulatory enforcement in American agriculture. The workshop, led by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, examined margins at various levels of the agricultural supply chain. The workshop also heard from many farmers and ranchers who traveled from across the country at their own expense to take part in two public comment sessions.
“Today's open and transparent dialogue with farmers, ranchers, industry and academics is resulting in a clearer understanding of the complex competitive issues facing American agriculture,” Sec. Vilsack said. “A fair and competitive marketplace is important not only for producers, but also for consumers.”
“These workshops have marked an important and unprecedented chapter in public-private collaboration, and although this is the last workshop, it is not the final chapter. Vigorous and appropriate enforcement is an essential component of our commitment to ensuring market fairness and robust competition,” said Attorney General Holder. “The Departments of Justice and Agriculture will continue working in close coordination to ensure fairness and opportunity for America's farmers, producers and agriculture industry.”
Vilsack and Holder began the workshop with opening remarks before moderating a discussion with participants representing each level of the agricultural supply chain, followed by a panel consisting of dairy farmers, academics and industry representatives to discuss dairy margins. In the afternoon a third panel looked at issues in the retail sector, examining concentration, margins and similar trends. The final panel discussed margins in the livestock and poultry industries.
Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division Christine Varney gave several strong commitments in closing the series of workshops. After hearing many “heartbreaking” stories in the workshops held in Iowa, Alabama, Wisconsin, Colorado and DC, she said that the Justice Dept is working closely with USDA to complete USDA's proposed GIPSA livestock marketing rule quickly and to “withstand any attack.” She also said that after hearing a poultry producer from Alabama say he could face retaliation for having testified about industry problems, she said that the Justice Department and USDA “will not tolerate any retaliation or intimidation” by poultry integrators.
For the agendas for all five “Agriculture and Antitrust Enforcement” workshops, with links to transcripts and videos of the workshops, go to: www.justice.gov/atr/public/workshops/ag2010/index.html
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