WASHINGTON – Senators Chuck Grassley and Herb Kohl today introduced legislation to ensure a level playing field for all market participants in the agriculture industry, including the independent producer and family farmer.
“The Justice Department has done little to ensure a competitive environment in agriculture. The lack of enforcement and a propensity to approve agriculture mega- mergers leads me to believe that we need to beef up our laws to address vertical integration, concentration and predatory business practices. Family farmers and small producers deserve a fighting chance in the marketplace and consumers will also benefit from more vibrant competition in the agriculture industry. We’ve been tinkering around the edges for several years now. This legislation attempts to deal with the problem head on,” Grassley said.
“Concentration within the agriculture industry harms competition, raises costs for consumers and tips the scale against our small and mid-sized farms. This bill enforces greater scrutiny of agriculture mergers, stepping up the enforcement of laws already on the books, and giving the Justice Department new tools to maintain healthy competition in our agriculture economy,” Kohl said.
The Senators expect the bill to be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Here is a summary of the Agriculture Competition Enhancement Act of 2007. The bill:
· Creates an Agriculture Competition Task Force to assist The Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission in drafting agriculture antitrust guidelines, examine problems in agriculture competition, and coordinate activities to address anti-competitive practices. The Task Force will be made up of representatives of the agriculture industry, state departments of agriculture, state attorneys general, farmers, ranchers and independent producers, as well as agriculture law and economics experts, the Department of Agriculture, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.
· Directs the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, in consultation with a working group of the Agriculture Competition Task Force, to draft agriculture specific guidelines to use when reviewing agriculture mergers.
· Amends the antitrust laws to shift the burden of proof in agribusiness mergers to the defendant to prove that the merger will not substantially lessen competition or create a monopoly in one or more geographic markets.
· Requires the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to conduct a post merger review of certain agribusiness mergers (mergers that submitted second requests for information) five years after they’ve been approved.
· Formalizes the Department of Agriculture’s review of agriculture mergers with the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, so that the Agriculture Department now will be an integral part of the anti-trust approval process in every agriculture merger.
· Authorizes additional resources for GIPSA and the Department of Justice to review agriculture transactions.
· Creates USDA Office of Competition and Fair Practices, headed by Special Counsel for Competition Matters.
· Creates DOJ Deputy Assistant Attorney General with responsibility for agriculture matters.