Comments to the Justice Dept on Ag Concentration and Competition Issues
UPDATE by Steve Gilman
In an remarkable departure from agribusiness as usual in this country, the U.S. Department of Justice, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, will be holding hearings around the country in 2010 to investigate the ongoing concentration of ownership and anti-competitive practices in agriculture. In response to their call for comments to inform the hearings process, the NOFA policy committee submitted the following to meet the December 31st 2009 deadline:
U.S. Department of Justice
Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the unprecedented series of joint hearings that the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice will hold in 2010 on the concentration of ownership and restriction of competition in agriculture.
Such scrutiny is long overdue and NOFA applauds this investigative and enforcement activity. These hearings should at long last address the broad implications of ongoing anti-competitive practices in the agriculture sector. A combination of vigorous enforcement, regulation, and legislation will be needed to restore competition and level the playing field.
Due to consolidation a handful of companies dominate our food supply. As a result, prices are rising, research and innovation are restricted, fair contracts are difficult to negotiate, and farmers' and consumers' choices are limited. The problem is accelerating and getting much worse as the effects of concentration affect all aspects of the food system from seed research to what is available on the supermarket shelf.
The Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) is a regional, grassroots, non-profit organic farming organization representing over 5,000 farmers, gardeners and consumers. NOFA is one of the oldest organic farming associations in the country and is comprised of seven separate state organizations: NOFA-NY, NOFA-VT, NOFA-NH, NOFA/MASS; CT-NOFA, NOFA-RI and NOFA-NJ. NOFA works regionally with groups in the North East Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) and is a charter member of both the National Organic Coalition (NOC and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). Further information may be found at our website: www.nofa.org
NOFA members continue to negatively experience the excessive concentration in the food system in numerous ways:
Farmers and consumers deserve an open and vital marketplace -- and fair practices demand it. The future of a free and unbound agriculture in this country depends on a vital family farm infrastructure working together with independent companies and publicly-supported research. These hearings have the potential to be an important step in restoring fairness and competition. We hope the Justice Department working with USDA will use these comments to determine the scope and the tenor of the upcoming hearings.
Thank you for this opportunity to comment on these important issues.
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