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Published March 22, 2010, 07:43 AM

Workshop first in a series that focuses on ag antitrust laws

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Holder said March 12 that the Obama administration is making a stronger commitment than any previous administration to enforce antitrust laws as related to agriculture.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Holder said March 12 that the Obama administration is making a stronger commitment than any previous administration to enforce antitrust laws as related to agriculture.

According to remarks released by the White House for a speech in Ankeny, Iowa, a Des Moines suburb, at the first of a series of workshops on agricultural antitrust law that Justice is hosting with the Agriculture Department, Holder called the event a milestone.

“Now, I don’t use that word ‘milestone’ lightly,” Holder said. “It’s been more than a century since the Sherman Antitrust Act became law and nearly 90 years since the Packers and Stockyard Act entered the books. In that time, not once have our nation’s Departments of Justice and Agriculture come together for a public discussion on competition and regulatory issues in your industry. Not once have farmers, ranchers, processors, consumer groups, economists and antitrust attorneys joined to share their perspectives on issues of competition and regulation — issues you all understand best.

“We all know that one of the greatest threats to our economy is the erosion of free competition in our markets. And we’ve learned the hard way that recessions and long periods of reckless deregulation can foster practices that are anti-competitive and even illegal. So we must ask: Is today’s agriculture industry suffering from a lack of free and fair competition in the marketplace? To answer this question, we must begin by examining what we know for sure. We know that a growing number of American farmers find it increasingly difficult to survive by doing what they’ve done for decades. And we’ve learned that some of them believe the competitive environment may be, at least in part, to blame,” he said.

“Enforcement of the antitrust laws, while critical, does not fully address the concerns of many agriculture industry leaders and stakeholders, Holder said, Justice is in partnership with USDA “to benefit from its deep expertise in your industry and, hopefully, to share ours on the broader regulatory issues that are potentially at play.”

As a candidate, President Obama charged that the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act had not been fully enforced and pledged to strengthen anti-monopoly laws. Holder noted that he had campaigned in Iowa, where farm groups have long complained about the impact of agribusiness mergers on farmers bottom line and where Sens. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, and Chuck Grassley, a Republican, have pushed for tougher enforcement of Packers and Stockyards and other antitrust laws.

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