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« Call to "Bust Up Big Ag" | Main | Seeding monopoly »

March 12, 2010

Notes from the agbiz concentration workshop: it's a national security issue

Does competition matter in agriculture? The Department of Justice, the Department of Agriculture and 800 plus others felt it was important enough to gather in Ankeny, Iowa today for the first ever workshop on competition in agriculture.

Coming into the meeting, it was an open question about whether the series of workshops planned this year would be more theater than a basis for action. Attorney General Eric Holder's appearance, along with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, tried to answer some of those questions. Vilsack talked about his deep concern for the future of rural America, and whether the benefits of efficiency that we supposedly gain from fewer, big companies dominating agriculture has come at the expense of farmers and rural communities. Holder emphasized that economic competition is a national security issue.

 "If this country doesn't have a functioning agriculture sector, that is a national security issue," said Holder "We've learned the hard way in the past few years how the effects of deregulation can result in harm.".

Christine Varney, Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, got everyone's attention when she talked about the agency's criminal authority. In her remarks she highlighted common themes that would be repeated throughout the day: a need for greater market/price transparency and the use of patents to create excess market power. As an example of Justice's newfound commitment toward agriculture competition, she pointed to recent DOJ efforts to blog mergers - one that included Dean Foods, another involving JBS and National Beef.

"Big is not bad, but with being big comes an awful lot of responsbility," said Varney.

In the next blog, we'll look more at what was said about competition in the U.S. seed industry.

Ben Lilliston

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