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April 26, 2010

Better agriculture competition workshops

The U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Agriculture are holding a series of historic workshops throughout this year on the effects of decreased competition in the agriculture sector. In March, we wrote three reports (one, two and three) on the first workshop—held in Ankeny, Iowa—which focused on the effects of market concentration on farmers. Upcoming workshops will be held in Alabama (poultry), Wisconsin (dairy), Colorado (livestock) and Washington, D.C. (price margins).

While the Iowa workshop succeeded on many fronts, a different format could have greatly strengthened the meeting. IATP helped organize a letter to the USDA and DOJ, signed by 40 organizations, outlines a series of proposed reforms for future workshops:

  1. Public participation should be expanded throughout the agenda so each panel has at least 30 minutes of public comments and questions.
  2. Incorporate an assessment of the impact of global agricultural market concentration and the role of trade and investment agreements into future workshops.
  3. Add an additional workshop focused solely on seeds and the implications of seed patenting in relation to competition potentially undermining sustainable agriculture.
  4. Include the Federal Trade Commission, which has jurisdiction over retail grocery stores and most food manufacturers, in the workshops.
  5. Add more regional workshops in states that have a strong agriculture sector with different characteristics, such as California, Minnesota, Texas, Florida and states in the Northwest and Northeast.

The Iowa workshop was impressive in demonstrating the commitment of high-level officials, like Attorney General Eric Holder and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, to addressing competition issues in agriculture; improvements in the workshops' organization would be another step in the right direction.

Ben Lilliston

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