(Beyond Pesticides, December 22, 2009) Currently, very few companies control most of the global food supply. But for the first time ever, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is calling for public comment on how big business controls food and farming. The DOJ’s Antitrust Division is collecting input in preparation for “agricultural workshops,” to be held jointly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in early 2010, which will examine the extent of abusive anticompetitive behavior by agribusiness giants.
The workshops, which were first announced by Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Aug. 5, 2009, are the first joint Department of Justice/USDA workshops ever to be held to discuss competition and regulatory issues in the agriculture industry. The all-day workshops, which will begin in March 2010, will be held in Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin.
According to DOJ, 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 experience in the agriculture sector. Each workshop may feature keynote speakers, general expert panels, and break-out panels that will address more narrowly-focused issues. At each workshop, the public will have an opportunity to ask questions and provide comments. See more details on the workshops, including dates, topics and more.
The U.S. Working Group on the Food Crisis, a group of organizations representing various sectors of the food system, is encouraging people to take the time to send comments to DOJ prior to the 2010 workshops. They have set up a resources webpage with sample letters and themes to include when writing to the DOJ. Working group member Pesticide Action Network has set up a take action webpage to help individuals deliver their letters electronically.
The U.S. Working Group on the Food Crisis suggests the following themes:
”¢ It’s harder and harder to find healthy, organic, locally produced foods in your community — especially if you live in a low-income area, there might not be a supermarket for miles.
”¢ Food is grown and raised in ways that are terrible for the environment, with methods that pollute the water, poison the soil and our bodies, and threaten our long-term food security.
”¢ Prices are rising at the supermarket, but you’ve heard that farmers are struggling — and big food companies have made record profits this year.
”¢ What’s in your food, anyway? And why aren’t there decent labels telling you where it grew, what chemicals are on it, and if it’s genetically modified?
”¢ You feel like you don’t have much choice about the food you eat — maybe the produce selection is bad, or you don’t like that everything seems to be made with corn products.
”¢ It’s hard for small food producers and processors to find markets for their products — and it’s hard for consumers to find products made by small producers.
”¢ Food seems less safe. You’ve read that the outbreak and spread of bacteria like E. coli happens much faster when meat and vegetables are processed in big centralized locations.
”¢ Local farms are going out of business, because small farmers can’t compete with prices set by industrial farms and consolidated buyers.
”¢ There aren’t many decent jobs in food and farming anymore — there’s a real lack of opportunities for both urban and rural youth who are interested in growing and preparing food.
”¢ There is a “revolving door” of personnel between corporate lobbyists and government regulators. No wonder corporations aren’t held to strict standards.
”¢ Just one company controls the majority of seeds in the US, and regularly threatens farmers who don’t buy its seeds.
”¢ Cows, chickens, and pigs are being raised in squalid conditions on huge industrial feedlots and pumped full of unnecessary antibiotics, which is unhealthy for them and potentially unsafe for the people eating them.
”¢ The food you can afford is bad for you; healthy food is expensive.
Comments in both paper and electronic form are due to the Department of Justice no later than Dec. 31, 2009. All comments received will be publicly posted. Commenting by mail: Two paper copies should be addressed to the Legal Policy Section, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 450 5th Street, NW, Suite 11700, Washington, D.C. 20001. Commenting online: Visit PANNA’s take action webpage or email directly to [email protected].