The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice recently held the fourth of five joint public workshops 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 competition in the livestock industry and featured panel discussions on trends in the livestock industry, market consolidation and market transparency.
The workshop also included opportunities for public comments.
The meeting was the fourth in a series of workshops intended to promote dialogue among interested parties and foster learning with a diverse group of stakeholders regarding competition and regulatory issues in the agricultural marketplace. These workshops are the first-ever to be held by the Department of Justice and the USDA to discuss competition and regulatory issues in the agriculture industry. Additional information about the workshops can be found at http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/workshops/ag2010/index.htm - overview.
"Given the consolidation that has taken place in the livestock industry over the past decades, it is critical to ensure a fair market still exists to give all players an honest chance at success," said Vilsack. "A fair and competitive marketplace is important not only for producers, but also for consumers, and today's open and transparent dialogue with ranchers, farmers, academics and other industry stakeholders will provide us with a understanding of the complex issues in this important industry."
"Ultimately, today's conversation is about much more than simply last year's trends or this year's challenges. It's about livelihoods, families, this region's economy and our centuries-old American way of life," said Holder. "We've made these workshops a cabinet-level priority so we can most effectively and efficiently determine how to ensure a fairer, more competitive marketplace for producers and consumers alike."
Secretary Vilsack and Attorney General Holder began the workshop with opening remarks before leading a roundtable discussion, in which Christine Varney, assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division, participated with other federal and state officials, on competition issues in agriculture and the livestock industry. After the roundtable discussion, a panel of producers and feeders from throughout the country shared their first-hand experiences and perspectives on the industry. USDA and Justice Department officials then listened to public testimony from audience members.
In the afternoon, another panel discussed trends in the livestock industry, including issues associated with contracting, price transparency and the effects of concentration. The final panel of various market participants will discuss market structure issues in the livestock industry. There will be an opportunity for more public testimony after the final panel.
The workshop was held in Fort Collins, Colo., at the Lory Student Center on the Colorado State University campus and was attended by several key federal and state leaders, including Governor Bill Ritter, U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Stulp and Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock.
Videos and transcripts from the workshop will be available for review at a later date on the Antitrust Division's Web site at http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/workshops/ag2010/index.htm - dates.