The USDA will partner with the Justice Department in a series of workshops in 2010 to explore competition issues in the agriculture industry, http://www.usdoj.gov/atr/public/press_releases/2009/248797.htm. This directly addresses the issues of monopoly control exercised by mega-corporations such as Archer Daniels Midland, Tyson, Monsanto and others.
"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," according to the release.
This is an invitation to influence policies, extended to all of us out here who raise, buy and eat food. Some of the workshops are planned for Washington, DC, but some will be held around the country.
They also want to know what other issues need to be examined: "The Department and USDA 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. "
USDA responded when small producers spoke out at NAIS Listening Sessions. NAIS may not have gone away, but it has receded from view, and is unlikely to be imposed as a mandatory system as a result of the impassioned statements presented at those meetings. This administration is willing to hear from those of us who were not at the table before.
They ask that suggestions be made in both paper and electronic form to the Department of Justice by Dec. 31, 2009. All comments received will be publicly posted. Two paper copies should be addressed to the Legal Policy Section, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 450 5th Street, N.W., Suite 11700, Washington, D.C. 20001. The Department's Antitrust Division is requesting that the paper copies of each comment be sent by courier or overnight service, if possible. The electronic version of each comment should be submitted to email@example.com.
Detailed agendas and schedules for the workshops will be made available on the Antitrust Division's web site at www.usdoj.gov/atr.
I'm excited about the possibilities this partnership represents. The lobbyists for Big Ag have not packed their bags, but this is an administration that sees that Corporate Farming is not the best path to feeding America. We can be part of the change we hope to see.