Thursday, August 10, 2000
<_title>>Grassley Seeks Aggressive Response to Ag Concentration Trend<</_title>/P>
WASHINGTON ? Sen. Chuck Grassley said today that he will conduct a hearing next month to consider a new study on how effective the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been at addressing increased concentration and unfair business practices in agriculture.
Grassley has been a leading advocate for a stronger government response to growing vertical integration in the ag sector. Last August, he asked the independent General Accounting Office to study the power held by USDA to investigate anti-competitive practices, the cases considered by USDA, and the factors affecting whether or not USDA acted using the extent of their authority under the Packers and Stockyards Act in response to anti-competitive behavior.
Findings and recommendations by the GAO are expected to be released on September 21. Grassley has planned a hearing to review the report he requested. The hearing is scheduled for Monday, September 25, at 1 p.m., in Dirksen 226. It may be moved to an earlier date should the GAO report be issued earlier than now planned. Grassley is chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts.
Grassley said that USDA has considerable authority to look out for the interests of independent producers under the Packers and Stockyards Act. This 1921 law established GIPSA ? the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration ? and charged the agency with ensuring fair marketing and livestock competition in the marketplace.
"My concern is that USDA has not fully exercised its ability on behalf of the family farmer when it comes to anti-competitive trends. I want to make sure that this issue, which is of tremendous concern to farmers, is given top priority status by USDA," Grassley said. "I introduced a bill last spring to give USDA enhanced authority to take action for farmers hurt by mega-mergers in agriculture. I also want to make sure USDA uses all the power it already has to counter unfair practices that negatively effect producers."
As part of his effort to ensure the federal government weighs the effect of increased concentration on the family farmer, Grassley introduced legislation in March that would require the USDA to review all ag mergers. His bill would give the Agriculture Department the ability to challenge a merger in a similar fashion to the Justice Department, and it would grant USDA expanded authority to prohibit anti-competitive practices in agribusiness.
Grassley also won Budget Committee approval in February of a resolution he offered in February to make sure the federal government has the necessary resources to enforce the antitrust laws and gives special attention to corporate transactions and anti-competitive practices in agriculture. Last fall, he was the only Republican senator to vote for an amendment offered by Sen. Paul Wellstone to place an 18-month moratorium on ag mergers.
Contact: Jill Kozeny, 202/224-1308