USDA and the Dept. of Justice have announced they will hold joint public workshops starting in 2010 to explore competition issues affecting the agriculture industry in the 21st century and the appropriate role for antitrust and regulatory enforcement in that industry. These are the first joint USDA/Department of Justice workshops ever to be held to discuss competition and regulatory issues in the agriculture industry, according to a release from the agencies.
The joint USDA/Department of Justice workshops will address the dynamics of competition in agriculture markets including, among other issues, buyer power (also known as monopsony) and vertical integration. They will examine legal doctrines and jurisprudence and current economic learning, and 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 for any concerns about the application of the antitrust laws to the agricultural industry. The goals of the workshops are to promote dialogue among interested parties and foster learning with respect to the appropriate legal and economic analyses of these issues as well as to listen to and learn from parties with real-world experience in the agriculture sector.
While some of the workshops may be held in Washington, D.C., others will be held regionally. The Department of Justice and USDA are soliciting public comments from lawyers, economists, agribusinesses, consumer groups, academics, agricultural producers, agricultural cooperatives, and other interested parties.
"For the first time ever, farmers, ranchers, consumers groups, agribusinesses and the federal government will openly discuss legal and economic issues associated with competition in the agriculture industry," said Christine A. Varney, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division. "This is an important step forward in determining the best course of action to address the unique competition issues in agriculture."
USDA and Department of Justice are interested in receiving comments on the application of antitrust laws to monopsony and vertical integration in the agricultural sector including, the scope, functionality, and limits of current or potential rules. USDA and Department of Justice are also inviting input on additional topics that might be discussed at the workshops, including 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.
The public and press are invited to attend the hearings. Additional information about the date, time and location of the workshops will be provided at a later date. Interested parties should submit written comments in both paper and electronic form to the Department of Justice and no later than Dec. 31, 2009.
Click here to read full press release from USDA.