DOJ, USDA workshop discusses industry issues
Fort Collins, Colo. – Farmers and ranchers from across the country joined state and national elected and appointed officials in Fort Collins, Colo. Aug. 27 on the Colorado State University campus to discuss a number of ag-related issues.
During opening re- marks, many key national players in both the ag industry and the Department of Justice (DOJ) spoke on their views and reasons for attending.
“Our focus today is on the livestock industry and whether there is proper competition to ensure producers are getting a fair shake,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “These workshops will help us understand the issues that are of most concern and deserve closer attention, and explore the appropriate role, if any, for antitrust or regulatory enforcement in the agricultural industry.
“In March we held a workshop on general farm issues in Iowa and in May we gathered in Alabama to discuss poultry issues. In June we discussed dairy issues in Wisconsin. Moving forward, we intend to hold one final workshop Dec. 8 in Washington, D.C.
“President Obama provided clear direction that the government should be open and transparent, and these workshops are designed to do just that,” stated Vilsack in his opening statement.
“As much as today’s discussion is about cattle, hogs and other livestock industry issues, it’s also about our nation’s founding ideals – about fairness and equal opportunities. Above all, it’s about better understanding and addressing the challenges all of you face. We are here to listen and welcome your insights and recommendations. Your suggestions are extremely valuable and the thousands of comments we have already received have been critical in guiding and focusing our efforts,” added U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. He added that the DOJ is committed to fulfilling and taking appropriate enforcement actions to any threats to erode competition.
Colorado Governor Bill Ritter Jr. thanked Secretary Vilsack and everyone else on the panel for taking the time to handle such and important issue in a large-scale town hall fashion in Colorado.
“I think what farmers and ranchers want is a fair shake. They want to understand the rules and have them work for them. They are not a group of people who want to be overregulated, so it’s a bit of a high wire act to have regulations in place. They want the rules enforced, and some certainty, but, at the end of the day, all they really want is for the rules to be fair,” noted Ritter.
“It’s important we get outside of Washington, D.C. and into the communities across the country to hear first-hand how government regulations will impact individuals,” said Colorado Representative Betsey Markey. Adding that ultimately the reins of the complicated and individualized livestock industry need to be in the stakeholders’ hands.
“I supported the extension of the comment period on the GIPSA rule until Nov. 22 so farmers, ranchers and producers can better understand the affect this proposed rule would have on family ranching, feeding and feed processing businesses. I hope this workshop will shed more light on how the GIPSA ruling will affect the livestock industry and the constituents in my district,” added Markey.
The DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Christine Varney noted the historic aspect of the meeting, in that it was the first time the DOJ and USDA have worked together on competition ag policy in the U.S.
“America’s farmers put food on the table for all of us, and there is something wrong with the system when the farmers can’t make a living and when they cannot pass that farm on to their children,” stated Varney to applause from the audience. “I know there is a problem and I’m here to listen to what we at the Justice Department, and myself, can do to help fix the problem and keep American agriculture as vibrant as it’s been for the last two centuries.”
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers commented that while his office does not house a large antitrust unit, they are a unit with a great deal of expertise.
“We are spending an awful lot of time examining the issues of competition in the agriculture sector and particularly those issues brought about by the tremendous amount of consolidation that’s taken place there. We are here today to learn more,” added Suthers.
Montana Attorney General John Stulp reiterated concern over the aging agriculture population and loss of rural communities. Adding that if people value keeping the word family in family farming and ranching operations, everyone will have to work together.
“I’m a strong believer that you can’t regulate away every problem. But, I do believe that federal and state governments have a role to play here, and that in decades past governments may have lost sight of that role. Perhaps we can give the 89 year old Stockers and Packyards Act a new set of dentures,” noted Stulp.
“It is in this broad context that we have a conversation today. I look forward to hearing what everyone has to say in these very important areas,” concluded Vilsack.
More information from the Competition Issues in Agriculture workshop will be presented in upcoming editions of the Roundup. Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.