Thursday, September 24, 2009

Antitrust Division Commits to Examine Competition in Dairy Industry

This posting was written by Jeffrey May, Editor of CCH Trade Regulation Reporter.

Christine A. Varney, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, told attendees of a field hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee in St. Albans, Vermont, that the agency was "committed to a careful and comprehensive examination of the [agriculture] marketplace."

Varney's September 19 comments, entitled "Crisis on the Farm: The State of Cooperation and Prospects for Sustainability in the Northeast Dairy Industry," followed a call from Senator Herb Kohl (D.-Wis.) to scrutinize antitrust enforcement in the dairy industry.

Senator Kohl, Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations panel and Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, on September 15 sent letters to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Assistant Attorney General Varney, asking them to look into the consolidation of milk processors and anticompetitive practices in agriculture.

Kohl urged them to hold a workshop on dairy issues in Wisconsin, as part of recently-announced workshop series to explore competition issues affecting the agriculture industry in the 21st century.

On August 5, the Justice Department and the Department of Agriculture announced that they would hold joint public workshops to consider the appropriate role for antitrust and regulatory enforcement in the industry.

In her remarks, Varney said that competition issues affecting agriculture were a priority for her. The upcoming hearings reflect this fact, she noted. According to Varney, two particular issues facing the dairy industry—buyer power and vertical integration—will be most likely among those explored in the workshops.

Text of Varney’s written statement appears here on the Department of Justice Antitrust Division’s website.

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