Workshops will address regulatory and antitrust issues

August 6, 2009

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) and Dept. of Justice (DOJ) 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/DOJ workshops ever to be held to discuss competition and regulatory issues in the agriculture industry.

The workshops will address the dynamics of competition in agriculture markets, examine legal doctrines and jurisprudence and current economic learning, and provide an opportunity for farmers, ranchers, consumer groups, processors, 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.

Both organizations are soliciting comments on the application of antitrust laws to monopsony and vertical integration in the agricultural sector, including the scope, functionality and limits of current or potential rules. They also seek input on additional topics that might be discussed at the workshops, including the effects 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.

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 public and press are invited to attend the hearings. Additional information about the date, time and location of the workshops will be provided at a later date. Interested parties should submit written comments in both paper and electronic form to DOJ no later than 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. Dept. 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 agriculturalworkshops@usdoj.gov. Detailed agendas and schedules for the workshops will be made available on the Antitrust Division’s web site at www.usdoj.gov/atr.

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