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USDA, DOJ to hold public workshops to explore competition issues in the agriculture industry

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Attorney General Eric Holder announced Aug. 5 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice will hold joint public workshops 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.

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.

"It is important to have a fair and competitive marketplace that benefits agriculture, rural economies and American consumers," said Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. "The joint workshops between the Department of Justice and USDA will allow a dialogue on very important issues facing agriculture today."

"Maintaining a robust agricultural sector is crucial to the strength of the American economy and to who we are as a nation," said Attorney General Holder. "Through the dialogue established in these workshops and, ultimately through our actions, we are committed to ensuring that competition and regulatory actions benefit all American consumers and businesses."

The first workshop will be held in early 2010. 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."



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